As Olympians push their bodies to the extreme during the upcoming Winter Games in Vancouver, professional and amateur sports enthusiasts alike will be watching their favorite televised sports. Olympic athletes train year round for these Games, and have to balance strength, endurance and stamina throughout the duration of their featured games, while recreational athletes among us may be pushing their body to the limits while skiing, sledding and snowboarding.

Hockey, ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding and other cold-weather activities are a great way to get some fresh air and exercise during these long chilly months. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has some helpful hints to avoid injury on the slopes, rinks and snowy trails.

"Vigorous activity and exercise such as downhill skiing is both fun and important, but the cold temperatures and slippery surfaces of winter can produce significant injuries, especially for children," said John D. Kelly, IV, MD, spokesperson for the AAOS and orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. "Wearing proper clothing, protective gear and avoiding extreme weather conditions can improve sporting safety so on one must miss out on the winter fun."

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2008:

- Snowboarding was the leading cause of winter sports injuries, sending 150,065 people to hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical settings.
- Skiing came in second with 148,555 injuries.
- Other sports and activities on the list include ice hockey with 54,160, ice skating with 49,469 injuries, sledding and tobogganing with 61,095 and snowmobiling with 34,201.

The Academy has several experts available to comment on treatment options and recovery times for those Olympians who may sustain an injury during the Winter Games.

In addition, the AAOS offers the following tips to help prevent 'average joe's' from any winter sports injuries:

- Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are more susceptible to injury. To avoid this, do some light exercises for at least 3 to 5 minutes, then slowly and gently stretch the muscles to be exercised, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.

- If you are avidly training in a formal sport, such as professional figure skating, ensure that the activity is led by a trained coach.

- Take frequent water breaks to prevent dehydration and overheating.

- Avoid participating in sports when experiencing pain or exhaustion.

- Never ski, sled, ice skate, snowmobile or snowboard alone.

- Know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating.

- Wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, helmets, gloves and padding, and make sure equipment is in good working order and used properly.

- For warmth and protection, wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing. Layering allows you add and remove clothing to accommodate your body's constantly changing temperature when outside or in a cold environment such as an indoor ice rink.

- Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness, as well as ample ankle support.

- When falling, try to fall on your side or buttocks. Roll over naturally, turning your head in the direction of the roll.

- Pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature to ensure safety.

- Become familiar with the whereabouts of fences, trees, rocks, open water and patches of ice. Stay on marked trails and avoid potential avalanche areas, such as steep hillsides with little vegetation.

- Be prepared for emergency situations and have a plan to reach medical personnel to treat injuries.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)

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