Be prepared when you hit the slopes – injury prevention

We’re dreaming of a white Christmas (and January, February and March) – a powder white skiing and snowboarding Christmas. Yes – it’s that time of year. Time to dust of the ski gear and get on the slopes. But, before you do, let’s look at some of the risks of taking to the slopes. Both skiing and snowboarding are exhilarating, fast paced extreme sports and because of this they also come with a high rate of injury. In fact injury rates in skiing and snowboarding are as high as 7 injuries per 1,000 ski days. Common types of injury are:

  • Knee – anterior cruciate or collateral (ACL) ligament injuries
  • Shoulder dislocations or fractures
  • Shoulder separations
  • Lower extremity fractures
  • Spinal injuries
  • Closed head injuries
  • Wrist, hand, or thumb injuries

Generally speaking skiers tends to have more lower limb injuries and snowboarders more upper body injuries. For skiing ACLs are the most prevalent injury and therefore protection of the knee is essential.

How can you help prevent skiing and snowboarding injuries?

Interestingly enough, although it is well known that exercised based injury prevention plays a key role across many sports, it is not well established in skiing and snowboarding. A 2016 study noted that there are 5 Injury prevention recommendation categories / themes. These included:

  • Equipment
  • Education and knowledge
  • Awareness and behaviour
  • Experience
  • Third party involvement (health professional, coach etc).

We agree that the above areas are key in helping to prevent an injury. We also think (from a physio perspective) that by incorporating fitness, strength training and muscle control exercises into your fitness routine you have an better chance of avoiding injury. Below we have listed a few key areas that could help you prepare for your skiing or snowboarding trip.

  • Lower limb and trunk control as well as core muscle strength generally.
  • Proximal hip and turns control which will limit the amount of knee valgus (or knock knees) during and help reduce the risk of knee injury.
  • Adequate quadriceps strength especially eccentric and isometric strength. This is important as the constant tension on your quads while on a ski run can cause muscle fatigue.
  • Glutes, hamstring and calf strength.
  • Jumping techniques including landing positions and mechanics.
  • Some rotation control, using a theraband or cables to add resistance. This is especially relevant for snowboarders.

What exercises would be good?

There are many exercises that can help to improve the key areas list above but here are a few to get you started. Images and instructions for a lot of these exercises can be found our previous blogs for tennis and glutes.

  • Single leg deadlifts – for the hamstrings and glutes – also challenges core stability and strength.
  • Loaded squats and decline squats – for glute strength.
  • Crab walk with theraband – helps with proximal hip and turns control and glute conditioning.
  • Side plank (with leg raise) – helps with proximal hip and turns control and glute conditioning.
  • Prone leg curl – for hamstring strength.
  • Jump lunges – for plyometric strength and stability around the knee.
  • Bridge (with and without leg raise) – for trunk strength and control.
  • Medicine (or swiss) ball roll out – for core strength and balance.
  • Box jumps, jump and lands and other plyometric based work. Check out these videos for exercises and techniques for this:

Some other types of things to try could be:

  • Trampoline or mini tramp based drills.
  • The ability to attenuate force, and perturbation during a task, for example doing 1/2 squat on a bosu while some one throws and catches a ball with you.
  • Using a bosu, wobble boards or slide boards.
  • Roller blading (we know you want to!).

Fitness preparation before you go

Along with trying to incorporate some of the above strength work, plyometric based work, landing practice and control exercises and suggestions, we recommend that you also include (depending on your level of fitness) 2-3 sessions of gym based work a week – at least a couple months leading up to a ski trip. 

We know that this all sounds like a lot of work and pretty time consuming, but perhaps it is worth remembering that an ACL injury generally requires painful surgery and 9-12 months of intensive rehabilitation!! 

Technique advice?

Make sure you seek out a good instructor if you are new to the slopes or if you haven’t been skiing or snowboarding in a while – just to check your technique and cues etc. If you have had a knee injury in the past it might be worth investing in a knee brace for support and also good orthotics and appropriate ski boots to assist in keeping the knee in a good alignment. If you want further advice on injury prevention or injury recovery please get in touch!

And, most importantly be careful on the slopes and have a great time (we are very jealous)!

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References:

Rian McGough; Specialist MSK Physiotherapist Doctor Of Physiotherapy, Technique Physiotherapy.

2016: Epidemiology of lower extremity injuries presenting to the emergency room in the United States- Snow skiing vs. snowboarding. Steven F. DeFrodaa, Joseph A. Gila, Brett D. Owensb. https://www.journals.elsevier.com/injury

Skiing And Snowboarding. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. www.STOPSportsInjuries.org

What are the Exercise-Based Injury Prevention Recommendations for Recreational Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding.

Sports Med (2013) 43:355–366, A Systematic Review; Kim He´bert-Losier Hans-Christer Holmberg; DOI 10.1007/s40279-013-0032-2.