The slopes are open and ski season’s underway. Which, as physios, unfortunately means we’ll see an influx of patients hobbled by those all-too-common knee injuries. Because, while skiing and snowboarding are lots of fun, they’re also relatively risky sports.
To help you ski safely, our resident snow bunny Conor has put together this guide to the most common snow-related injuries, and some easy tips to avoid them…
The risks of skiing
Skiing has a reputation for being a risky sport with high incidence of injury. Studies have shown the skiing injury rate to be 3 injuries per 1000 skiing days. Of this, the bulk of injuries were to the lower extremity (42%), most of which were to the knee. Upper extremity injuries accounted for 34%, head 15% and spine 6%.
Knee injuries account for 1/3 of all injuries in skiing. Most skiing injuries (about 75%) occur either by falling down or loss of control during a jump, with only between 3%-8% occurring by collision with other skiers. The medial collateral ligament (MCL), found on the inner side of the knee joint, is the most commonly injured due to the sudden twisting motion encountered during falls. Injuries to the meniscus (knee cartilage) and the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL and PCL) are also very common. This pair of ligaments connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone), and are integral in knee stability when twisting and turning.
A good lower limb stability program can minimise the stress placed on the knees during jumps and falls and reduce the risk of injury. It is also very important to regularly check your bindings so that they release during a fall. This is one of the main causes for knee injuries in skiing.
Most knee injuries can be treated conservatively, but in the case of a complete ACL rupture, surgical intervention is usually required to restore rotatory stability to the knee.
Head & Neck Injuries
Head and neck injuries are common during falls. This can result in concussion, whiplash and neck sprains. Any blow to the head needs to be carefully monitored and assessed by a doctor. Helmets should be worn at all times to protect the head from serious injury.
Skiers thumb is an acute injury that often happens when falling with your hand in the ski pole strap. Your thumb can get caught and pulled away from the hand, which can cause a ligament tear. This can result in difficulty with grasping. Treatment is often with a cast, splint or taping, but surgery may be required.
Preventing Skiing Injuries
The best way to prevent injuries is by doing a proper strength and conditioning program before hitting the slopes. When there, a good warm up should be performed each day as cold muscles are more likely to sustain an injury. Beginners should also get lessons to help them learn good technique and learn how to fall properly. And, no matter how experienced, a helmet should be worn at all times.
Pete Hunt is a highly skilled physiotherapist with nearly three decades of experience working in sports physiotherapy and private practice. The Director of The Alignment Studio, he has a special interest in musculoskeletal and sports injuries, orthopaedic rehabilitation and postural syndrome. With a caring, communicative approach, Pete uses a combination of joint and soft tissue mobilisation and exercise prescription to treat his clients. He’s also passionate about education for injury prevention and lasting results.