You are speeding down the slope, making perfectly executed turns, and dreaming of the Olympics, when suddenly, a five-year-old shoots across your path. You try to avoid him, but you catch an edge … automatic catastrophe, right? In that instant, you assume you’ll be off the slopes until next winter due to a terrible knee injury.
Well … not necessarily.
Did you know that ligament injuries account for 20-30% of all alpine injuries? That’s a scary statistic, but before you decide to accept the painful fate of an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, you should know that there are some steps you can take to avoid suffering this calamity and possibly losing weeks of fun on the slopes.
Here are four tips to help you avoid knee injuries:
(Spoiler alert: the five-year-old will still ski across your path.)
#1: Strengthen your muscles BEFORE you even plan your first trip to the slopes.
This is not something that can be casual (no, those 10,000 steps a day alone will not cut it)! You should be training your muscles to be able to carry your weight. We all have a dominant leg, but you should train the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads on both sides. Don’t forget about your core as well! Train in front of a mirror to make sure that you are in alignment and that your knees jut straight out over your second toe.
Having a trainer and working out at a gym would be ideal, but if you need to save your money for the lift tickets, you can also find a wealth of YouTube tutorials demonstrating ski strength conditioning and injury prevention. You are not simply working on neuromuscular response and flexibility, however. Remember that five-year-old? Work on your balance too. Maybe you can find a way to avoid him without taking a tumble. Practice one-legged balance exercises or work with balance boards. Anything that strengthens your body’s proprioception (that’s your awareness of the position of your body and its movement in space) will help.
Finally, don’t forget cardio and aerobic training. This will help build your endurance so that you can stay upright on those knees and have the energy to focus for the whole day.
#2: Warm up on your ski days.
You wouldn’t run a race or a marathon without warming up, would you? Skiing is just as strenuous. Spend twenty minutes or so stretching before you put your body to the test. With your ski boots on, hold your poles and swing each leg forwards, backward, and then sideways. Stretch your upper torso as well. You can step in place, dance in place, and put your hands in the air like you just don’t care! Just get that blood pumping and those muscles warmed up.
#3: Use the appropriate ski gear.
This doesn’t mean that you have to buy the most expensive equipment or that you have to buy new equipment at all. Just make sure that your current poles are the right height for you and that your skis, boots, and bindings fit well and are in good condition.
#4: Finally, ski with proper form — keep those knees bent!
Keep your hips above your waist and your arms forward. Know your limits — that means don’t try to show off by taking the black diamond run when you should be getting comfortable on the bunny slope. This also means knowing when to give your fatigued muscles a rest and head for the after-ski activities. (Most ski injuries happen on the last run of the day when skiers push themselves and are tired.) Finally, if Tommy (yes, that five-year-old has a name now) crosses your path and you find yourself flying into space, know how to protect yourself when you fall. Keep your knees bent and flexible and don’t try to right yourself until you have stopped sliding.
And yet … accidents do happen.
If you hear a “pop” from your knee as you fall, if you are unable to put weight on your leg, or if your knee is swollen and in pain, it’s time to seek medical treatment. You may already know to RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), but keep in mind the fact that delayed diagnosis and treatment can hinder proper healing. In a worst-case scenario, you may need surgery and rehabilitation.
True Sports Physical Therapy specializes in complete ACL rehab. We focus on aggressive management of ACL rehabilitation, using the latest research, manual therapy techniques, equipment, and our extensive knowledge of exercise science to promote improved healing and recovery. Our physical therapists provide one-on-one patient care in our state-of-the-art facilities. Read about our rigorous ACL rehabilitation program here. Our goal is to expertly rehabilitate you and get you back on the slopes where you belong.
Make an appointment at one of our seven convenient locations in the Greater Baltimore area: Call (410) 514-3297