Background: Alpine skiing and snowboarding are popular winter sports. The practice of these sports is related to traumatic injuries, some of which are severe and/or life threatening. OBJECTIVES: To identify the incidence, injury patterns and associated risk factors of severe and polytraumatic injuries in South Tyrol. MATERIALS AND METHODS: During four consecutive winter seasons (2001-2005), data of every patient referred to our emergency department (Bolzano-Bozen) after a skiing or snowboarding accident were collected. One hundred and five patients with an Injury Severity Score of 16 or higher were identified (90 skiers, 15 snowboarders). Statistical descriptive analyses were carried out by producing frequency tables. Chi-square test was performed to verify possible association between injury severity and type of sport. Risk factors for severe injuries were evaluated using logistic regression with robust variance estimators. RESULTS: Traumatic brain injury was the most common injury observed (51 cases), followed by vertebral injury (45 cases); 63% of the patients reported two or more associated injuries. We observed significant associations between severe spine injuries and the following risk factors: snowboarders who reported more severe injuries than skiers [odds ratio=5.89, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.31, 26.44], age classes of 40-50 years and over 60 years showed an OR of 8.10 (95% CI=1.87, 35.06) and 5.16 (95% CI=1.27, 21.01), respectively, with respect to age class (20-40 years). CONCLUSION: Severe traumatic injuries occur among skiers and snowboarders, and preventive measures such as the use of helmets and educational programs, are necessary
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