Skiing Injuries

In a follow up from last week’s Winter Olympics blog, we’re focusing on a different snow sport. You guessed it – skiing. In both the alpine races and freeskiing competitions, athletes are impressive with their high speeds and exciting tricks. And like last week, it should be no surprise that with these skills can often come significant injury.

But even the beginner recreational skier can hurt themselves on the slope. In fact, there is a higher occurrence of injury amongst the novice skier compared to the elite athlete. Here are the most common ski-related injuries and providing some strategies on how you can reduce you risk of getting hurt.

 

Knees

Knees are the most common joint affected in skiing and account for up to 1 in 4 ski injuries. The most common ski-related knee injuries are those affecting the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the meniscus. The ACL prevents the tibia (shin bone) from gliding too far forward beyond the femur (thigh bone). It also provides rotational stability.

Usually, the cause of an ACL injury in any circumstance is when a lateral force is combined with a rotational force, like when the knee collapses in or aggressively twists. In skiing, these types of injuries typically occur when the athlete catches an edge and the binding doesn’t release. Although there have been several prominent athletes who have sustained ACL injuries due to crashes (i.e. Lindsey Vonn).

The time to return to sport after suffering from a knee injury can vary depending on severity, but all recoveries will typically involve physical therapy as part of the process. There are times when surgery is indicated and many times PT is prescribed pre-operatively as well.

 

Shoulder, Wrist and Hand

While skiing primarily challenges the lower body, the upper extremity is at risk for injury as well, specifically during falls. Our wrists tend to be the first point of contact when we put our hands out in front of us for a fall. This makes them prone to fracture in the sport of skiing, especially amongst a more novice skier.

Skier’s Thumb occurs when a person falls on an outstretched hand while holding their ski pole in their palm. This force can cause the ligaments around the base of the thumb to be sprains or for the thumb to dislocated.

Shoulder injuries to a ski athlete occur from the same mechanism. When the impact force from a fall travels up the arm from the hand to the shoulder, the result can be a shoulder dislocation. This can also be associated with other shoulder injuries including labral tears, rotator cuff tears or humeral (upper arm bone) fractures.

 

Concussion

Concussions are also quite common amongst ski athletes; in fact, head injuries account for about 20% of all ski/snowboarding injuries. A concussion occurs when there is a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head (like when a skier crashes or falls), causing the brain to make contact with the inside of the skull.

A person who sustains a concussion or other head injury may or may not lose consciousness. Other common symptoms may include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, amnesia, sensitivity to light or noise, changes in personality, and more. It is important to note that symptoms of a concussion can greatly vary from person to person so anyone suspecting a head injury should be evaluated by a medical professional.

 

While there is no 100% guarantee way to prevent ski injuries, there are a few strategies you can implement to reduce your risk.

  1. Get Equipment – having the appropriate equipment, like a helmet, braces or padding, can protect you against injury for the obvious reasons. But it’s also important to ensure the correct fit of your ski kit. Skis need to be the right length for your skill level and intention. You should also make sure your ski poles are the correct length and that your boots fit appropriately. If you have your own equipment, make sure it’s well maintained.
  2. Get Lessons – even the most advanced skier can benefit from an occasional lesson. For beginners, of course, this factor is even more important. Ski lessons help with not only confidence and technique, but also with the mechanics of falling (when most injuries occur).
  3. Get Strong – skiing is a fun, but physically demanding, sport. It’s extremely helpful to maintain a good level of conditioning if planning on skiing. Strengthening the legs, hip and core also improve stability and balance and can help reduce the risk of injury.

 

Even if you’re not racing down double black diamonds or throwing double cork off the jumps, skiing can be a really exciting and fun form of exercise, and hopefully these tips keep you as safe as possible. In the event that you do sustain a ski-related injury (hey, it happens), physical therapy can help you in recovering so you can get back to the slopes in no time.