It’s that time of year when physiotherapists and sports injury clinics become inundated with those of us suffering from winter sports injuries. According to The Telegraph, millions of Brits will hit the slopes this ski season and around 17,000 will come back home on crutches. Changes in equipment and safety regulations have lowered the rate of injury and, generally speaking, the risk involved in skiing or snowboarding is lower than most people’s perceptions. However, accidents and falls do occur, even to professionals. In November 2016, US ski team racer Lindsey Vonn fractured the humerus bone in her right arm. A month later, French skier Thomas Fanara ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) towards the end of a World Cup race, compromising his competitive ski season.
A Finnish study, carried out by the department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology at Helsinki University Hospital from 2006 – 2012, into the incidence of recreational alpine skiing and snowboarding injuries at the country’s largest ski resort found that the knee is by far the most common part of the body to get injured while skiing, making up almost a third of all cases, whereas snowboarders tend to sustain more injury to the upper limb and axial areas. Snowboarders are also at a greater risk of head and upper extremity injuries, chiefly wrist injuries. Have a look at our infographic below.
Among skiers, the knee accounted for up to staggering 27% of all injuries. Out of all lower extremity injuries, 68% (skiers) and 47% (snowboarders) involved the knee and 26% (skiers) and 33% (snowboarders) of injuries were to the lower leg and ankle. Generally, the study suggested wrist and ankle injuries are far more likely amongst snowboarders.
Of knee injuries, damage to the ACL is by far the most common affliction for skiers. The ACL is one of the major knee ligaments, providing stability and limiting rotational movements. It can be either strained, partially torn or fully ruptured. Skiing is a prime culprit for ACL damage because of the rotational movement required to get down a slope properly. Often other structures within the knee, such as ligaments or the meniscus cartilage, can sustain damage when trauma to the ACL occurs.
But an ACL injury doesn’t have to mean the end of your skiing career. If you ski infrequently, once a year perhaps, then a knee brace and rehabilitation programme could be enough to get you back on the slopes.
Rather than limit your winter sports activity, though, it might be a good idea to think about prevention before you hit the slopes and take some steps to minimise the associated risks. It might be worth doing some conditioning exercises that incorporate endurance, flexibility, balance and strength – all crucial for preventing injury.
There are several exercises that can help, such as double leg wall sits: place your back against the wall, feet hip-width apart, and gently bend down until the thighs are parallel to the floor. These are great for flexibility and strength when held for a minute, and repeated several times. Stronger quadriceps support the knee and allow for better control on jumps and uneven slopes, and alternating single leg squats are also effective. Step ups are a good way to build up your quadricep muscles, too.
Balance training is the most important exercise for preventing ACL tears in women. Standing on one leg whilst mini-squatting is an effective way to work on this. For worthwhile results, aim to start at least a month before you leave for holiday. Anything you can do to improve your cardiovascular endurance or aerobic fitness – by running, cycling, swimming or using jump ropes for example – will help dramatically when you’re finally setting off for the slopes.
Advice for avoiding winter sports injuries:
- never ski or snowboard alone;
- check that your equipment fits and is working properly;
- take lessons from a qualified instructor if you are new to the sport;
- pay attention to weather and avalanche warnings;
- stay in designated areas of the resort;
- drink plenty of water on the slopes;
- wear appropriate protective gear;
- warm up before all exercise;
- learn how to fall correctly, it is better to relax and not tense up;
- ensure you have competent fitness levels;
- wear proper footwear;
- ski/snowboard to your ability.
If you think you have sustained a more serious injury from a fall, refrain from continuing exercise or returning to your sport, to avoid causing further damage and an increased recovery time. Sometimes, sport injuries simply require rest and time to heal. However, other injuries require immediate medical attention and specialist treatment to help you return to full health.
Several skiing and snowboarding injuries can be diagnosed and treated by an orthotist. LOC can help you recover from a winter sports injury using biomechanical assessments and our bespoke orthotics aid rehabilitation programme. Get in touch if you would like to know more.