Snowboarding wristguards review and compare

There's strong evidence that wristguards prevent fractures.
 
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  • Updated:26 Jun 2007
 

01 .Introduction

Snowboard wrist guard

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.

Studies have shown that wearing a wristguard can significantly reduce the risk of injury. A wristguard covers the lower forearm, wrist and part of the hand.

To compare the quality of products on offer, an expert panel carried out an assessment, looking at comfort, fit and protectiveness.

Note: this assessment was funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) of New Zealand. Our thanks to ACC and Consumers' Institute of New Zealand for their permission to republish the findings.

Findings

  • Wristguards must provide adequate support and protection, while allowing the wrist to be used as normally as possible.
  • The expert panel was disappointed by most of the wristguards they saw.
  • Even so, wearing any wristguard is better than not wearing one.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


 
 

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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.

The best

Rac Wrist Support

Price $35 Rac wrist support

Good points

  • The most protective wristguard and the best for beginners.
  • Support splints on top and bottom of wrist.
  • Fan-shaped support on palm to spread the impact.
  • Left- and right-hand guards identified.
  • Durable splints with good length of support.
  • Worn over gloves (this protects the gloves and helps keep them dry).

Bad points

  • Bulky and unattractive.
  • Not commonly sold in shops.

Dakine Wristguard

Price $33 Dakin wristguard

Good points

  • Fan-shaped support on palm to spread the impact.
  • Left- and right-hand guards identified.
  • Range of sizes available.
  • Good fit.
  • Compact (so would fit easily under most gloves).

Bad points

  • No support splint on top (back) of hand.
  • Palm splint fairly rigid and so may split with wear.
  • Neoprene fabric may become sweaty.

 

The rest

Dakine Nova Wristguard Glove

Price: $90

Good points

Convenient built-in guard.
Fan-shaped support on palm to spread the impact.
Left- and right-hand guards identified.
Range of sizes available.


Bad points

  • Palm support doesn't sit in the right place.
  • No support splint on top (back) of the hand.
  • Must be fitted tightly around the wrist for support.

Seirus Internal Wristguard Jam Master Exo

Price: $50

Good points

  • Left and right hand identified.
  • Range of sizes available.
  • Fan-shaped support on palm to spread the impact.
  • Breathable material.
  • Resists wrist extension.

Bad points

  • Sizing is too general.
  • Length of splint too long and is uncomfortable on wrist bone.

A panel of experts from New Zealand assessed several wristguards for comfort, fit and protectiveness.

The panel of experts were:

  • Dr Simon Brebner: Ski Area doctor at Treble Cone, for 12 years. Medical Director for the Winter Performance Programme.
  • Ginny Bush: NZ team physiotherapist at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Turino Winter Olympics. Physiotherapist for the NZ Winter Performance Programme.
  • Erin Greene: Patroller Coronet Peak.
  • Associate Professor Peter Milburn: Researcher into sports injury biomechanics, School of Physiotherapy, University of Otago.
  • Matt Wood: Buyer of snow products for R&R Sport, Dunedin. Rac Wrist Support

The panel agreed that the Rac Wrist Support (pictured right) - worn over the glove - was the most protective. It protected both sides of the wrist and had a fan-shaped support on the palm to spread the impact. Trouble is, the Rac screams "learner". It's bulky, unattractive, and uncool. So you won't find it in many shops.

Dakine WristguardThe Dakine Wristguard (pictured left) also provided good protection to the palm of the hand. It's compact and would fit easily under a glove. However, there's no support splint on top of the hand. This guard is a good compromise for a more experienced snowboarder.

The Dakine Nova Wristguard Glove was the most convenient. You only need one piece of equipment, rather than both a glove and a guard. But the panel questioned how much support it'd give. It's definitely not for a beginner, although it may provide some support for a more experienced boarder who's less likely to fall.

Matt Wood from R&R Sport (one of the panellists), said this technology was fairly new. In time, he expects gloves with built-in wristguards to offer better protection.

One of the other guards - the Seirus Internal Wrist Guard Jam Master Exo - was uncomfortable.

The panel stressed the importance of trying the wristguards before you buy. So don't buy online, or from a store that won't let you try them.

Some ski fields will lend you a free pair of wristguards when you hire a snowboard. All beginners should take up this offer.

  • Always wear a wristguard, especially if you're a beginner. Some ski fields will provide them for free when you hire a snowboard.
  • There are two main types of wristguard: those worn over your glove, and those worn underneath. Gloves with built-in wristguards are also being developed. Don't buy wristguards until you've tried them with the gloves you'll be wearing. There's no point buying a pair that's uncomfortable.
  • Wristguards come in different sizes - get one that fits.
  • Wristguards should last for two seasons (depending on how often you wear them). They need to be dried out after use.
  • Just starting to snowboard? Take a beginner's lesson, if the ski field offers this. Learn how to fall properly - it'll reduce the risk of injury. Tuck your forearms in towards your chest with your fists clenched - and bend your knees. As you fall, your buttocks (if you fall backwards) or knees (if you fall forwards) take the main impact.
  • Don't forget other protective equipment, such as helmets and padded shorts.

Lack of a standard

Standards ensure a product can withstand certain forces under testing, and they reassure consumers that the product can do what it claims. But we can't advise you to look for a standards-approved snowboarding wristguard - there aren't any.

Snowboarding is a fairly new sporting activity and no country has yet developed a standard for wrist guards. The International Society for Skiing Safety (ISSS) will discuss what's involved in developing a standard this year.

What to look for

In the meantime, here are the features you should look for when choosing a wristguard.

  • Breathable material: Neoprene or rubber will be comfortable but may be sweaty. These materials will also cool quickly.
  • Comfort: If the wristguards aren't comfortable in the shop, they won't be comfortable after a day on the slopes. There shouldn't be any pressure points when you bend your wrist back and forth.
  • Convenience: Can you use your hands or remove your gloves easily? Can you release, secure, and adjust bindings without having to undo a guard?
  • Design: Support splints should be contoured to fit the curve of the hand and wrist.
  • Fit: Guards shouldn't slip up and down on the wrist. They should stay in place regardless of whether they're worn under or over the glove. Brands should offer a range of sizes to ensure a good fit.
  • Flexibility: There should be some flexibility in the splints - but you shouldn't be able to bend them in half.
  • Left- and right-hand guards: Wristguards designed to fit either hand won't stay in place as well as those designed specifically for each hand. There should be a clear indication whether the guard is for the left or the right hand.
  • Length of guard: Longer guards are generally better than shorter guards. The length of the guard should be longer than your watch strap.
  • Palm support: There should be some cushioning at the point of impact, to spread the load. A fan-shaped support will be most effective.
  • Support splints: Support splints should be on the top (back) of the hand and on the palm. The palm support should be stiffer than the support on the top.
  • Wrist extension: Guards should be stiff enough to stop you bending your wrist back more than 45 degrees.