When it’s raining in Portland, it usually means it’s snowing in the mountains. Winter weather means many of us will be heading out to the slopes for a variety of activities, downhill skiing being one of the most popular. Whether you are an experienced skier or a beginner, it’s important to know how to prevent an injury from putting an early end to your ski season.
Common Ski Injuries
There are wide arrays of injuries snow skiers are susceptible to. Knee injuries, especially injuries to the ligaments, are common. Fractures can occur in the lower leg, although releasable bindings have reduced these injuries in recent years. Dislocations and sprains can occur in the shoulder if a skier falls and reaches their hand out to catch themselves. If a skier falls with their hand over their ski pole they can get a ligament injury known as a skier’s thumb.
Knee injuries are the most common skiing injuries, and ligament injuries make up a large percentage of those injuries. Injuries to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) most commonly occur when the skis are in the snowplow position and the skier falls. When stopping in this position, make sure your weight is evenly distributed and most importantly, stick to terrain suited to your skill level. Injuries to the ACL are the second most common skiing related knee injury. ACL injuries typically occur when landing a jump with improper form, or when trying to stand up to prevent a fall. The easiest way to prevent these types of injuries is to make sure you know how to land safely and never try to stand up during a fall.
The most dangerous ski injuries are head injuries. Always wear a helmet and if you at any point fall and hit your head, seek medical attention even if the trauma seems minor. Concussions are common, but life threatening injuries such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause fatal bleeding and swelling in the brain. Helmets cannot protect against all injuries – they are most effective at reducing skull lacerations and fractures – but they can not always fully protect against high velocity injuries with rotational components. Don’t let a false sense of security lead you to make decisions you otherwise wouldn’t.
How to Prevent Ski Injuries
The easiest way to prevent injury when skiing is to know your skill level. Stay in areas you know you can handle and choose runs you are comfortable with. Taking a lesson is always a good idea – both for beginners and skiers wishing to advance their skills. Make sure your equipment is properly fitted and in good condition. It is also important to be in good physical shape. Skiing is challenging. Most injuries occur later in the day when you are tired. Before you take that last run, make sure you physically feel strong enough to do it safely.
Learning good technique is the best injury prevention. Making sure you are strong and healthy is a close second. Lower body exercises to strengthen the calves, glutes and core will not only help you stay in good shape for skiing, but will also help your skiing. Exercises like double and single leg squats, sideways squats (monster walks or skaters), plank and side plank are good places to start. If you have a nagging injury, seeing a physical therapist is always a good idea before starting a difficult activity like downhill skiing.
Skiing is an enjoyable and challenging winter activity, and by taking some key precautions you can make sure you’re able to ski all winter long (as long as we have snow!) If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, call us at 503-295-2585 or visit www.lifesworkpt.com to schedule an initial evaluation with one of our physical therapists. If you live outside the Portland area, please refer to our previous blog on How to Find a Good PT and visit apta.org to locate a great physical therapist in your area.