snow tubing

Wintertime provides several opportunities for outdoor fun with friends and family, with sledding and snow tubing being some of the most common activities. While these activities can be fun and provide an opportunity for physical activity in the cold winter months, they can sometimes lead to serious injuries, including concussions.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 30 percent of children hospitalized following a sledding injury suffered significant head injuries, and 10 percent of these children had a permanent disability. More than 20,000 annual emergency room visits are a direct result of sledding injuries in patients 19 years of age or younger according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database.

Concussions and other head and neck injuries are of particular concern during winter sports such as sled riding and snow tubing, according to Alicia Sufrinko, Ph.D. You can reach very high speeds and, unfortunately, sometimes you crash into something or with someone else.

When your head or body takes a hit, it can cause your brain to shift or shake around inside your skull, similar to a yolk inside an eggshell. This impact can injure your brain and cause a concussion.

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Don’t let injuries get in the way of winter fun. Try these tips to reduce the likelihood of sustaining a concussion and other injuries:

Use a proper sled. Never use a sled substitute such as a lunch tray or cardboard box because they can be pierced by objects on the ground.
Dress appropriately. Frostbite and hypothermia are real concerns during any winter sport. Be sure to wear sensible winter outerwear while sledding or snow tubing.
Always wear a helmet. Be sure to wear a helmet as a safety measure to protect against head injuries like skull fractures.
Choose the right terrain. Choose a hill that is specifically designated or designed for sledding and has a long, flat area at the bottom so you can glide to a stop. The hill should be clear of trees, bumps, rocks, poles, and other obstacles.
Go sledding during the daytime, when visibility is better. If you go sledding at night, make sure the hillside is well-lit so you can see potential hazards.
Designate a go-to adult. In the event someone gets injured, you’ll want an adult on hand to administer first aid and, if necessary, take the injured sled rider to the emergency room.
Sit face-forward on your sled or tube. Never sled down a hill backwards or while standing, and don’t go down the hill head-first, as this greatly increases the risk of a head injury.
Young children (five years of age and younger) should sled with an adult, and children younger than 12 should be actively watched at all times.
Go down the hill one at a time and with only one person per sled (except for adults with young children).
Never build an artificial jump or obstacle on a sledding hill.
Keep your arms and legs within the sled at all times. If you fall off the sled, move out of the way. If you find yourself on a sled that won’t stop, roll off and get away from it.
Walk up the side of the hill. Leave the middle open for other sled riders and snow tubers.
Never ride a sled that is being pulled by a moving vehicle.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll be injured while sledding or snow tubing, the possibility does exist. Remember, concussions are treatable when managed properly. If a concussion is suspected, it’s important to seek medical attention from a health care provider trained in concussion.

To learn more about the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program’s treatment approach for concussions, visit To schedule an appointment with one of our experts, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

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An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.