While snowboarding continues to ascend the ranks in popularity, evening out or at times surpassing skiing, wrist and elbow injury has tagged along with it and has now become a matter of concern. In Australia, snowboarders have incurred 2.4 times as many fractures as skiers, with 35% of upper limb injuries being fractures. Among areas of the body damaged by the sport, the wrist accounts for 21.6% of all snowboarding injuries. Due to this seemingly problematic injury trend, it has been suggested by some that wrist guards be used to reduce the rate of injury. One concern that has arisen from these suggestions is that wrist guards will actually redistribute the impact of the force of falling to other proximal areas of the arm and cause elbow injuries. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of wrist guards and to either confirm or denounce these suspicions, a case control study was conducted in Victoria, Australia, to investigate the association between wrist guard use and wrist fractures, and the association between wrist guard use and the severity of wrist and elbow injury.

One-hundred nineteen snowboarders with fractured wrists and 375 control subjects, who were defined as snowboarders without wrist injury, took part in the study. All participants completed a questionnaire regarding wrist guards, and physicians saw each subject with a fracture and recorded the severity and site of the fracture. Data accrued from the questionnaires showed that the groups most likely to suffer a wrist fracture were school age snowboarders and novices of the sport. Also, the odds of wearing a wrist guard were lower in injured subjects than uninjured ones.

Overall, from the pool of 494 study subjects, only 15 snowboarders had sustained an elbow injury of any kind. Five of these were soft tissue injuries, of which four subjects were wearing a wrist guard and one was not. Ten were elbow fractures or dislocations, and only three of these subjects were wearing wrist guards versus seven without them. Seeing that wrist guards were primarily present only in soft tissue injuries and rare in more serious ones, in addition to the fact that only 15 out of a group of 494 snowboarders suffered an elbow injury at all, the role of a wrist guard in reducing overall injury severity can be established as significant.

Results of the study suggest that snowboarders who wear wrist guards in Australian ski conditions could benefit from a reduction in wrist fractures of roughly 42%. Reports from similar studies performed in other countries have come up with numbers between 52% and 87% as the protective effect of wrist guards. The greatest beneficiaries of wrist guards will be school age and novice snowboarders as they are proven to be the most likely candidates for wrist injury.

-As reported in the Oct. 6 edition of The Medical Journal of Australia

-By Greg Gargiulo