Table of Contents
- Common knee injuries sustained during a skiing
- How to identify a knee injury?
- First aid for knee injuries
- How to strengthen your knees for skiing?
- How to prevent knee injuries when skiing?
- Always prep yourself before skiing
- Familiarize yourself with the snow condition of the terrain
- Invest in proper skiing gear
- Do some warm-up exercises before you start skiing
- Quit trying to impress
- In case of a fall, fall the right way
- Learn proper and quick response
- Take rest as needed
- Follow the posted rules
- How to treat knee injuries?
- How soon can you return to skiing after an injury?
Knee injuries are every skier’s biggest fear, whether an expert, a novice or a total newbie. Many skiers have lost opportunities to pursue skiing professionally because of knee injuries. Some have had to be content with watching other skiers enjoy the hobby they once were actively involved in. All these because knee injuries left them unable to ski anymore. Every skier, professional or not, should be aware of the fact that they are always at a high risk of a knee injury and as such need to equip themselves fully to not only deal with an injury but prevent. There are over 20,000 reported knee injuries in the U.S. alone with the most common knee injury involving the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Younger skiers sustain more injuries because they are adventurous and are always taking risks and experimenting. However, they bounce back very fast after an injury compared to the older skiers (35 years and above). Knee injuries can result in torn ligaments, dislocated knee caps, and fractured bones leading to very expensive surgical procedures or a very long period of recovery. If you are wondering whether it is possible to ski and never get a knee injury. Yes, it is but only when you know how to prevent the injuries. In this article, we will take you through:
- The common types of knee injuries sustained by skiers
- How to identify a skiing knee injury
- First aid for skiing knee injuries
- How to prevent knee injuries
- How to strengthen your knees for skiing.
Common knee injuries sustained during a skiing
MCL, medial collateral ligament tear is the most common injury reported especially by intermediate and beginner skiers. This happens mostly when a skier is trying to land after a fall downhill but lands awkwardly twisting their knee. MCL is found on the inner side of your knee and is responsible for making the knee joint stable. So when it loses stability as a result of a fall, the MCL tears causing unbearable pain. The pain requires strong pain relievers to calm down. MCL injuries are mild and do not require any Surgery.
The ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament has a number of functions in the knee. It protects the tibia from sliding off the femur. It also provides rotational stability to your knee. The ACL is located in the middle of the knee and holds together the bones in your knee. An ACL tear can happen when you make a sudden movement or a sudden sharp turn when skiing. Most skiers get ACL injuries when changing directions while skiing very fast. Apparently, more women skiers sustain ACL injuries than men but the damage is more in men.
The pain from an ACL tear or stretch is unbearable and can make it impossible to walk or stand. Any pressure on the knee makes the pain even worse. You may also notice swelling on the knee within 24 hours after the injury that makes it almost impossible to bend or flex your knee. If your injury is severe, you might need to have surgery done otherwise your doctor will most probably prescribe pain killers and ointments
The meniscus, a C-shaped piece of cartilage, is located between the femur and tibia. These two pieces of cartilage, a medial meniscus, and the lateral meniscus act as a cushion between the shinbone and the thighbone. The meniscus is often bruised and torn during skiing causing it to have injuries. This tear comes from sudden twisting or rotating of the knee either when landing or when maneuvering the ski. A torn meniscus will be painful, swollen, stiff and you will have trouble extending your knee. If the pain is not so severe, a good rest, a pack of ice and painkillers will do you good. However, if the tear is severe, you might need to be booked for surgery.
Even though fractures are not so common in this decade because of the advanced technology, there are still cases of such in every skiing event. Fractures often happen when the skis do not come off at the right time.
Knee cap dislocation
This is also a rare occurring injury but it’s good we mention it since it does happen to a few numbers of skiers, especially in young beginners. A kneecap dislocation or patellar subluxation often happens due to unexpected twisting of the knee or when you suddenly make a change in direction. The stress and pressure exerted on the knee cause the cap to shift out of place. Knee cap dislocation is unbearably painful and depending on the severity of the dislocation, treatment may require a surgical procedure, bracing or physical therapy.
How to identify a knee injury?
- Knee stiffness
- Popping noises
- Warm when you touch
- Pain in and around the knee
- Unable to stand, bend or extend the knee
When to see a doctor?
- You should immediately call your doctor if you:
- See a deformity in your knee
- You are unable to walk completely or are unstable
- there is a visibly marked swelling
- Are in severe pain and unable to flex your knee
First aid for knee injuries
First aid for a knee injury will be guided by the PRICE ( Protect Rest Ice Compression Elevation) principle, however, if you suspect that the injury is serious it is important that you lay down without making any further movement and call for emergency services.
Protection means that you immediately stop any skiing to protect yourself from further injuries.
You should not continue with skiing even if you feel okay after a few hour’s rests. It is advisable that you take at least 24 hours off skiing to allow for complete healing.
Take a damp towel and place it on your knee then place a pack of ice on top of the towel for about 15 minutes every hour to relieve the pain. The towel is meant to protect your skin from cold ice burns. Continue doing this for a day or even two to get rid of all the pain. When packing for skiing always remember to pack an ice bag for such incidences. You can also grab a commercial ice pack from the nearest store.
Compression helps to bring down the swelling on the knee which can be very uncomfortable. Take an elastic bandage and wrap around your knee starting from the above the knee to below the knee. You need to do it gently yet wrapping the knee tightly. Monitor the blood flow as you tighten the bandage, it should still allow blood to follow to the injured part. If you feel any numbness or tingling then loosen the bandage, it’s too tight.
Take a comfortable chair or a cushion and let your footrest above it. The elevation angle of your knee should be at the same level with your hip. Keep it elevated for as long as 24 hours as you continue with ice compressions. If you have any swelling, it may limit your elevation at first but as the swelling goes down, elevation should be more comfortable.
How to strengthen your knees for skiing?
To keep your body fired up and ready to take on skiing, you must prepare it adequately. Prepping your body with conditioning exercises helps you build stamina and strengthens your core. All these help to minimize knee injuries. You should start exercising at least six weeks before your skiing trip. No need to hit the gym if you don’t want, you just need to do light exercises which you can do at home.
Helpful exercises to help condition your knees to include:
When skiing, you will make more use of the muscles around your thighs, knees, hamstrings, and buttocks. Squats are therefore perfect exercises for these body parts. The best thing is that you can do squats at the comfort of your home and it won’t take you any longer than 30 minutes. There are two types of squats to do:
- Double leg and single-leg squats. The leg squats really strengthen your things and knees and builds good stamina. Stand straight with your shoulders properly angled. Put your legs apart (a foot apart), and push your hips back. Slowly lower your body as you bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor then now move up and down. The pushing should be from your heels. Repeat the movement 20 times then take a minute rest before the next set of 20.
- Wall squats. The wall squats are perfect for building endurance. Start with finding a perfect wall spot. Stand straight and let your back rest against the wall than in a squatting position, move up and down. Make sure you hold the squatting position for as long as you can handle before moving back. Repeat this a couple of times then take a break. For perfect results, push your back really hard against the wall.
These are very easy exercises that require no equipment but your willingness. Lunges are great for building up the lower-body muscles like the glutes, calf, and hamstrings. To do a lunge, stand straight with your hands on your hips and your feet inches apart. With one leg, take a step forward and slowly lower your body as though going into a lunging position. The front leg should be at a right angle while the back leg should be lower as though almost touching the floor. Now bring forward your other foot back to the starting point and repeat the same movements. Do at least a set of 10 lunges before moving to the next leg. Remember to keep your shoulders and back straight, head high and chin up.
Planks will help you build a strong core which is the foundation of a strong skiing body. Planks will strengthen the muscle on the lower body which you will be using so much as you try to maneuver the terrain and during turning. Planks are rather very easy to do. Lie flat on the floor then push your hips up with your elbows resting on the floor. Stay in the position for a minute then go down and start again. Your body should be well aligned when going up. If your hips dip low, push them back up. You can also do side planks with the same procedure.
How to prevent knee injuries when skiing?
While skiing will always put you at a high risk of a knee injury, there are ways you can prevent yourself from falling a victim.
Always prep yourself before skiing
You have to always prepare your body before taking off to the slopes. Give yourself at least six weeks of preparing your core and lower for the extremities of skiing. These conditioning exercises are a good way to prep your body:
- Squats: Aerobic training such as swimming
- Walking lunges
Exercise for at least 20 minutes three times a week. This will strengthen your knee and leg muscles. Strong muscles help to support the ligaments in the knee to reduce the risk of ACL, MCL and meniscus injuries.
Familiarize yourself with the snow condition of the terrain
Regardless of your skill level, it is important that you know the snow or ice condition of the ground before taking off. Different slopes have different terrains so it is best to stick with the terrain that fits your skill level.
Invest in proper skiing gear
Skiing is one of those sports that you can’t afford to gamble with the quality of gears. Quit bargain stores and thrift stores and buy your boots, bindings, and skis at reputable shops. You can order online if you are certain of your size and fit otherwise it is best to get fitted at the ski shop.
Do some warm-up exercises before you start skiing
Cold muscles are easily injured. This is why athletes and sportsmen always start with warm-up exercises. 10-15 minutes of simple stretching exercises is a good start.
Quit trying to impress
There is nothing as embarrassing as getting injured in the quest to impress your friends. The pain from the injury and the embarrassment is enough to make you quit skiing for a couple of months if you lack a thick skin. Concentrate on what you can do at the moment. As you practice you will get better at it and you can finally impress without putting yourself at risk.
In case of a fall, fall the right way
It sounds weird to tell you to fall the right way but yes, as a skier there is the right way to fall. Pull your legs and hands towards your torso to prevent you from injuring your knee or dislocating your shoulder. During the fall, keep your legs flexed until you stop sliding and If your hips fall below your knees, raise them up. Once you can get a hold of yourself, immediately return to the normal stance to gain proper balance and better control. This reduces your risk of a full-blown fall that could lead to an ACL injury. The only time you should try to get up before you stop sliding is when avoiding another skier or an obstacle.
Learn proper and quick response
This is the surest way to protect yourself from sustaining knee injuries and dislocating your shoulders. You must be quick in your response towards a potential fall. Here is how you need to respond
- Put your arms forward to avoid landing on your hands
- Pull your feet together
- Put your hands over your skis
- Keep your hips above your knees.
During the fall, if you can sit down do so to slow down the momentum. These responses will help align your downhill thigh with the downhill ski to reduce the twisting load on the knee. They will also put you at a better place for a controlled fall or quick recovery.
Take rest as needed
Fatigue increases the chance of you falling and injuring yourself. Take breaks in between. Listen to your body, if it needs some rest do just that, take a rest. Eat well and keep your body hydrated. Take energy drinks to spice up your energy levels, a weak body is a disaster in waiting when skiing.
Follow the posted rules
Finally, follow the posted rules on the site. Rules are there for a reason, follow them for the sake of your own safety and for the safety of others.
How to treat knee injuries?
Treatment for a knee injury depends on the extent of the injury. It can be as simple as just taking a few hours break to a surgical operation. If you experience mild pain and a bit of swelling, take a day or two off skiing. Get some ice packs and ice the painting area. Compression will also help in bringing down the swelling so use a knee brace, knee sleeve or wrap a bandage around the knee. No need to panic unless you suspect there are fractured bones and torn ligaments. Put your leg up at an angle of 30 degrees of either semi-flexion or flexion.
If after 24 hours, the swelling is still not coming down and the pain is still unbearable then there is a need for an MRI scan or an Xray. You possibly have a severe ligament tear but relax, this does not necessarily mean you need surgery. A couple of pills, knee braces and a therapy session may be enough. The doctor may also recommend a couple of knee strengthening exercises. For fractures and dislocation, you definitely need to book for a surgical operation but your doctor will advise you better after running a couple of tests on your knee.
How soon can you return to skiing after an injury?
There is no standard rest time, it all depends on the severity of the knee injury. If its a minor injury like the meniscal tear and the swelling and pain have gone down then you can slowly get back to skiing in less than 48 hours. But most skiers quit altogether for some time since their performance is already compromised and they find the limitations very tiresome. The return should be slow and gentle and you also need to be extra careful when making sudden movements to prevent further injury.
If you suffered a fracture or a severely torn ligament then you might be off skiing for several weeks to months to allow for complete healing. A simple sprain on the MCL could take between 4-8 weeks to heal if there was no surgery involved. After this period you can slowly resume skiing but with a lot of care. Take the healing process seriously and follow what the doctor and physical therapists advice. How you perform during the rehabilitation period will determine how soon you will return to the slopes.
- In case of a knee injury, use the PRICE (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) principle as a first aid response to the injury.
- Do not apply any heat on the injured knee within the first 72 hours. Heating increases blood flow which increases pain and swelling.
- Before you hit the slopes, take at least 3-6 weeks to prepare your body with conditioning exercises like planks, lunges, and squats.
- Take breaks in between your skiing, eat healthily and keep hydrated to maintain your body’s energy levels.
- Learn proper skiing techniques, how to fall the right way and stick to your skill level until you are certain that you are ready for the next level.
You have probably heard that prevention is better than cure times without number but we will insist, again and again, take these prevention tips very seriously to avoid knee injuries. If you want to keep heading to the slopes to do what you love, heed to our advice.