Wrist injuries are common among snowboarders. International studies show that 25 percent of all snowboard injuries affect the wrist, and that 70 percent of wrist injuries are fractures. When you lose your balance, you instinctively put out your hand to break your fall. Most fractures occur when the wrist is forced backwards.
Juliane Bray, New Zealand's top female snowboarder and the first New Zealander to win a snowboarding World Cup event, believes beginner snowboarders should wear wristguards. Although Juliane doesn't wear wristguards now, she knows the importance of falling properly - she did wear them when she was learning to snowboard. She also wore wristguards when she was protecting a wrist injury after a bad fall.
What the studies show
Lab-based studies have shown that, if you're wearing a guard, more force is taken off the bone and you're less likely to fracture your wrist, and any fracture you do get will be less serious.
International studies (including three randomised control trials) suggest that snowboarders wearing wristguards have significantly fewer injuries. For instance, the Colorado Snowboard Injury Survey collected information on more than 7000 snowboard injuries. The data showed boarders who wore wristguards were only half as likely to injure their wrists as those who didn't.
Some snowboarders say they don't wear wristguards because the guard may transfer the injury higher up the arm. But there's little evidence to support this. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined19 ski areas. The study found that wearing wristguards reduced the risk of a hand, wrist, or forearm injury by 85 percent.
Not surprisingly, beginners are at the highest risk because they lose their balance more easily and may not have learnt how to fall properly. Experienced snowboarders are two-and-a-half times less likely to injure their wrists.
If you break a wrist you'll be off the slopes for six to eight weeks. Fractures may require re-setting and the insertion of metal wires or plates. They can lead to premature osteoarthritis, and to chronic pain and disability. They're not something to take lightly.
The Accident Compensation Corporation of New Zealand (ACC) wants to reduce the number of snowboarding wrist fractures. In the 2005/2006 year, 15 percent of the total snow-sport claims for earnings-related compensation were for wrist fractures - many of these were from snowboarding.