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An international review of head and spinal cord injuries in alpine skiing and snowboarding
  1. A Ackery1,2,
  2. B E Hagel1,4,
  3. C Provvidenza1,
  4. C H Tator1,3
  1. 1
    ThinkFirst Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2
    Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3
    Department of Surgery, Division of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4
    Departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  1. Dr C H Tator, Toronto Western Hospital, 399 Bathurst St 4W-433, Toronto, ON M5T 2S8, Canada; alun.ackery{at}; charles.tator{at}


Background: Alpine skiing and snowboarding are popular winter activities worldwide, enjoyed by participants of all ages and skill levels. There is some evidence that the incidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and spinal cord injury (SCI) in these activities may be increasing. These injuries can cause death or severe debilitation, both physically and emotionally, and also result in enormous financial burden to society. Indeed, TBI is the leading cause of death and catastrophic injury in the skiing and snowboarding population. Furthermore, there are severe limitations to therapeutic interventions to restore neurological function after TBI and SCI, and thus the emphasis must be on prevention.

Objectives: (1) To examine the worldwide epidemiology of TBI and SCI in skiing and snowboarding; (2) to describe and examine the effectiveness of prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of TBI and SCI in skiing and snowboarding.

Search strategy: Searches were performed on a variety of databases to identify articles relevant to catastrophic central nervous system injury in skiing and snowboarding. The databases included PubMed, Medline, EMBASE, CDSR, ACP Journal Club, DARE, CCTR, SportDiscus, CINAHL, and Advanced Google searches.

Selection criteria and data collection: After initial prescreening, articles included in the review required epidemiological data on SCI, TBI, or both. Articles had to be directly associated with the topic of skiing and/or snowboarding and published between January 1990 and December 2004.

Results: 24 relevant articles, from 10 different countries, were identified. They indicate that the incidence of TBI and SCI in skiing and snowboarding is increasing. The increases coincide with the development and acceptance of acrobatic and high-speed activities on the mountains. There is evidence that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 22–60%. Head injuries are the most common cause of death among skiers and snowboarders, and young male snowboarders are especially at risk of death from head injury.

Conclusions: There should be enhanced promotion of injury prevention that includes the use of helmets and emphasizes the skier’s and snowboarder’s responsibility code.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Abbreviations:
    spinal cord injury
    traumatic brain injury