Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries: What to Know

By: Renown Wellness Team

January 12, 2023

Couple skiing and posing in snow

If you're not taking safety precautions during mountain sports, you could be at risk for a spinal cord injury. Dr. Benjamin Pence of Renown Rehabilitation Hospital explains the best way to prevent this serious injury.

Mountain sports are a big part of the winter season here in our area, but if you’re not practicing all the proper safety techniques, you could end up with a serious spinal cord injury. Benjamin Pence, MD, Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, is here to offer tips to prevent this serious injury while you’re out enjoying what the Truckee Meadows has to offer.

What is the spinal cord?

The spine stretches from the base of your skull to the coccyx (commonly referred to as the tailbone). Your spine is made up of 24 vertebrae—seven cervical, which are in your neck, 12 thoracic, which are in your chest, and five lumbar, which are in your lower back. There are ligaments and muscles attached to each vertebra. These facilitate back movement and protect the bones from damage. There is cartilage between each vertebra which acts as a shock absorber for your spine.

Finally, the spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular bundle of the nervous tissue and support cells that is enclosed in the spinal canal and send signals from the brain to everything from your arm and leg muscles to bowel and bladder function. The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system.

What are some causes of spinal cord injury?

Main causes of injury while participating in snow sports include run-ins with trees, accidents after going off jumps and being hit by another person. There are two main ways you can injure your spine:
  • Flexion/hyper-extension: If a sudden impact forces the neck forward and backward very sharply, too much strain is put on the front and/or back of the vertebrae, causing damage (such as a whiplash injury).
  • Compression: if direct compression forces the spine downwards, the bones are pushed on top of each other.

What are the best ways to prevent this injury?

Most spinal cord injuries occur due to accidents. By increasing awareness and taking precautions, you can prevent many of these accidents and the resulting spinal cord injuries.
  • Be aware: Always look around you and don’t stop in any areas where it’s hard for others to see you, such as near trees. Other people can also be a danger to your personal safety so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Always stay in control and don’t go faster than conditions permit..
  • Wear the right gear. It’s not only important to wear the proper safety gear, especially a helmet, but it’s key to make sure you are wearing the equipment properly and it’s the right fit..
Research has shown the use of helmets has reduced skiing/snowboarding head injuries by 30 percent to 50 percent. And remember to replace worn or damaged protective equipment.
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