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Snowmobiling season is just getting started, and like any other sport it’s important to understand how to prevent injuries so your sledding season doesn’t come to an end before it even gets started. Long periods on your snowmobile force your body to maintain a fairly unnatural position. With this, the weight of the sled, vibrational stresses and exposure to the elements, it’s no surprise that our bodies can feel pretty sore at the start of the snowmobiling season.
Each year the popularity of snowmobiling continues to grow. Although it provides a great way to enjoy the outdoors and remain physically active throughout the winter, it is also one of the riskiest sports for injuries. While the most common mechanism of injury is due to a collision, there are many other less reported, minor injuries that can easily be prevented. One potential musculoskeletal issue related to snowmobiling is wrist pain.
Your wrist is the joint where your forearm bones (radius and ulna) meet the many small bones of your hand (carpal bones). It’s one of the most complicated joints in your body. Although there are many muscles, tendons and ligaments in this part of your upper extremity, one group of muscles that can be problematic for sledders is your wrist extensors.
Your wrist extensors are a group of muscles that sit on the top of your forearm (on the opposite side to your palm). Their main function is to extend the wrist – this is the position in which many people hold their wrists while typing at a computer. An overuse injury of this muscle group is called lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow.” Although it’s a common injury in tennis players, there are many other athletes who experience problems with their wrist extensors.
Common symptoms are pain on the outside of the elbow and a loss of grip strength. If you think you are experiencing this type of problem, make an appointment with one of us to learn specific stretching and strengthening exercises as well as other techniques to prevent this problem from worsening.
Another wrist issue common in snowmobilers is carpal tunnel syndrome. This problem is caused by a pinched nerve on the palmar side of your wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage through which nerves and tendons travel. Carpal tunnel syndrome results from any type of inflammation or swelling that makes this tunnel smaller. Symptoms include pain, weakness, numbness and/or tingling in the thumb and first two fingers. Possible causes of carpal tunnel syndrome are pregnancy, repeated wrist movements or illnesses like diabetes or arthritis. Consistently holding your wrists in a non-neutral position can also increase the risk of this problem. Physical therapy can treat this syndrome by improving posture, creating more stability and endurance in the muscles of the upper body and through the use of modalities to reduce pain and discomfort.
One of the causes of upper body discomfort related to snowmobiling is due to the ergonomics of your sitting position. Fine tuning the way you sit on your sled can minimize this potential issue. See if you can adjust your setup to keep your wrist in a neutral position; this means your thumb is in line with your forearm and your wrist is not lifted or curled. Ideally your forearms will be parallel to the ground.
Your shoulders should be fairly relaxed – avoid hiking up your shoulders by drawing your shoulder blades down your back. Adjust the handlebar so that you don’t have to reach forward for it; in an ideal seated position your elbows are bent to about a 90 degree angle and tucked in close to your ribcage. Lastly sit up as tall as you can to maintain a soft curve in your lower back.
Strengthening your wrist muscles, specifically the wrist extensors is an important prevention strategy and one that can help to maintain the balance between the wrist extensors and flexors. Simply grab a small weight (2-3 pounds) and do wrist curls in varying positions of elbow bend. Focus on building up your repetitions to 3 sets of 15.
Gradually build up your tolerance for long sessions of snowmobiling. This is especially important at the start of the season and allows your body time to adjust.
Consider adding a wrist warm-up to the start of sledding session. A warm-up can be pretty basic – simply make small circles in each direction with your wrist. You can also bend your wrist up and curl it back down to stretch your forearm muscles (see our picture on the right).
Build up upper body strength to better support the small joints of your wrists and hands. Increased stability in the muscles around your upper back and shoulder blades provide a strong foundation for your arms and hands.
Book an appointment with one of us for an assessment and to create a personalized exercise routine to keep you sledding comfortably all season!