Young hockey player wearing helmet to protect against head injury.


Prevent winter sports concussions

Minnesota is famous for its miserable winters. Despite this, as Minnesotans, we do not just endure winter, we embrace it. We go outside. We ski. We skate. We sled. We snowmobile. These activities are fun, but high speeds and slippery surfaces can lead to serious injuries, including concussions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, stretching and damaging the brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain. Most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully, however some will have symptoms that last for days or even weeks. A more serious concussion can last for months or longer. 

There is not one technique or safety equipment that is 100 percent effective in preventing concussion, but there are things you can do to help minimize the risks for concussion and other injuries while enjoying winter activities. 

  • Wear a helmet. Make sure it is properly-fitted and well-maintained. Replace the helmet after a serious fall.
  • Test your equipment. Make sure it is in good condition before you go.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Scope out the trail, sledding hill, or skating rink before you take off at full speed. Follow all posted safety rules, stay within allowed boundaries, and avoid closed trails. Look out for other people, and try to avoid crowded areas. If skiing or sledding, stay near the center of the trail or hill and away from trees. If skating on a pond, only skate on approved ice. Never wear headphones, so you can hear what is going on around you.
  • Focus on technique. Warm up ahead of time. Take a lesson if you are new to the sport or need to brush up on your skills.
  • Know your limits. Do not try to push yourself beyond what you can safely handle. Take a break when you start to become fatigued. When it comes to snowmobiles, children under age 6 should never ride on them, and no one under age 16 should be driving them.
  • Avoid alcohol. It impairs reaction time.
  • Practice safe playing techniques. Enforce no hits to the head or other types of dangerous play in hockey and other sports. Encourage athletes to follow the rules of play.
  • Mind the ice. When ice and snow are present, wear shoes with soles that have traction. Be mindful of icy patches and "black ice" on asphalt.
  • Learn concussion signs and symptoms. Concussion symptoms can include headaches, weakness, numbness, decreased coordination or balance, confusion, slurred speech, nausea, and vomiting. If you or a loved one notices any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away.


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