The sport of snowboarding can be traced to the invention of a device known as a snurfer, created in the United States in the 1960s. By the 1990s, the snowboarding was the fastest growing winter sport in North America. With the growth in snowboard popularity, there was a parallel rise in the incidence of snowboard injuries. Most snowboard injuries are caused by mechanisms unique to the characteristics of the snowboard and the corresponding movement of the user (often referred to as a "boarder").
As many people who take up snowboarding are attracted to its apparently freewheeling and less structured style, there has been traditionally less attention paid to both snowboard instruction and the use of safety equipment. Snowboarding also has a decidedly acrobatic element; many ski resorts have constructed specially designed half pipes and similar layouts to permit snowboarders to practice aerial maneuvers.
Snowboarding has been a popular Winter Olympics sport since its introduction in 1998, with a variety of individual disciplines contested in men's and women's categories. Events such as the half pipe competition are scored subjectively; the giant slalom and snowboarder cross are races where the winner is the athlete with the fastest time to complete the course.
Contemporary snowboards are usually constructed from a fiberglass or composite material board that has two defined edges. The board surface has a measure of flexibility in its construction, and the board is accordingly capable of absorbing a degree of the forces directed into it. Unlike a conventional Alpine ski binding, the snowboard bindings do not release to permit the boarder's foot to become detached from the board during a run. The boots worn by the boarder are one of three styles-hard, soft, and hybrid. The soft boot is the most common style worn by recreational snowboarders, as it permits the boarder a measure of flexibility in their ankles as they maneuver the board. Hard boots are favored for performance and elite racing; the hybrid includes characteristics of both hard and soft boots.
The most common snowboard injury are those sustained to the wrist and surrounding bone structure. As the bindings of the snowboard do not permit the feet of the boarder to be released if the boarder loses their balance during a run, many boarders instinctively react by thrusting out their hand and arm as they fall, causing a significant force to be directed into the wrist. It is this mechanism that causes almost all of
It is the same type of fall with an outstretched arm and resulting impact that is the cause of the second most common type of snowboard injury, those occurring in the shoulder joints. The largest of the shoulder joints, the scapulohumeral joint [the structure created by the meeting of the humerus (upper arm) and the scapula (shoulder blade)], may become dislocated. This injury arises when the force of the impact directed into the boarder's outstretched arm radiates into the shoulder. The boarder may also sustain a separation of the clavicle (collarbone) and the acromion, the bony segment located at the top of the scapula, a circumstance known as an AC joint injury, or separated shoulder.
Ankle and lower leg injuries are relatively common in snowboarding; the nature of the injury will depend to a large degree upon the type of boot worn. Boarders who favor soft boots will sustain ankle injuries, usually sprains of the ligament sets that connect the talus (ankle bone) to the tibia, fibula (the bones of the lower leg), or calcaneus (heel bone). Fractures of the ankle are not common in snowboarding unless the boarder strikes another object while riding. When the boarder wears hard boots, the twisting forces sustained by the ankle joint that can cause an ankle injury to the soft boot boarder are directed by the hard boot into the boarder's knee, exposing the boarder to knee ligament injury. In most cases, the knee is not a prime injury target; unlike Alpine skiing, there is little independent twisting motion in the knee as the board is propelled; the boarder's entire body tends to twist in unison with the board as it moves across the snow.
Spinal injuries are not common in snowboarding beyond the bruising of the buttocks due to hard falls. In extreme cases, snowboarders have sustained compression fracture injuries to the spine, where the forces of falling have been directed into the lumbar (low back) vertebrae with sufficient force to fracture the vertebrae.
Head injuries most commonly occur when a snowboarder strikes another object, such as a tree or natural obstruction, or where the boarder fails to properly execute an aerial maneuver and lands on their head. Helmets, which are not always worn by recreational boarders, reduce much of the risk of serious head injury.
In addition to the different types of boots, a number of different kinds of specialized snowboard safety equipment have been devised in recent years. Wrist protectors, fashioned as a support and guard for each hand, protect snowboarders from wrist and shoulder injuries in the event of a fall. Along with the use of wrist protection, snowboarders are encouraged to use the "parachute roll" where the boarder learns to fall with their hands and arms close to the body, to reduce the degree of force directed into the wrist and shoulder.
As important as the safety equipment is the level of physical fitness of the boarder. Snowboarding, with its absence of many of the formal rules and conventions of other sports, possesses one common element with other sports with respect to injury prevention—fitness, particularly as developed through strength and flexibility. Fitness is the best protection a boarder has in avoiding injury.