Ski Injuries: The Knee

By Mai Vu, Physical Therapist

It is mid February and snow accumulations have reached over 32 inches in Red Bank, NJ so far for the 2013/2014 winter season. Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, has received 157 inches of snow. That only means one thing for ski and snowboard enthusiasts like myself….it’s time to hit the slopes!

Injury avoidance is crucial to enjoying the whole season. The body part most commonly injured during skiing is the knee. Injuries include meniscus tears, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, medial collateral ligament (MCL) tears, and fractures. Knee injuries commonly occur when falling backwards onto the skis, attempting to prevent an imminent fall, and attempting to get up while still sliding after a fall has occurred.

There are exercise programs that have been proven to reduce the risk of ACL injury in female athletes, especially those that play soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. Exercises help to prevent injury by increasing strength, stability, flexibility, and proprioception (a fancy term that basically means the body’s self-awareness). Here are just a few exercises to increase strength and proprioception that can be performed in preparation for the ski season. However, it is advisable to consult with a physical therapist or exercise professional to develop an individualized comprehensive program that is tailored to address your specific physical weaknesses, imbalances, and ability level.

Lie on your stomach with your elbows on the floor, directly under your shoulders. Feet should be flexed upwards so your toes are in contact with the floor. Lift your hips up in the air so that you are balancing on your elbows and toes. Your head, shoulders, hips, and feet should be held in alignment. Hold this position until you begin to lose your alignment. Do not perform if you cannot hold the proper position. Repeat 2-5 times.

Single Leg Bridges
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift your pelvis off the ground by pushing through the heel of one foot. The opposite foot should be held in the air, either up close to your body or with your leg pointing straight out. Make sure the pelvis does not sag to one side when performing the bridge. Repeat 10-20 times per leg.

Dynamic Lunges
Start by standing with your feet together. Take a large step forward with one leg while keeping the other leg in place. Lunge by lowering the body towards the ground, making sure that the front knee stays directly over the foot. Then push through the heel of the front foot to lift the body back up and return to the original starting position. Repeat 10-20 times per leg.

Sideways Monster Walks
Loop a resistive exercise band around your legs just above knee height. Assume a slight squat position. Take small steps sideways, ensuring that your knees always stay directly above your feet. Repeat 10-20 times in each direction.

180 Degree Jumps
Start standing with feet slightly apart and knees slightly bent. Jump straight up into the air and complete a 180-degree turn before landing. Try to make the landing “soft” and quiet. Repeat 10-20 times in each direction.

There are many other things to consider to reduce the risk of injury, such as equipment, warming up, staying hydrated, and most importantly, listening to your body. Do not overexert yourself, and stop when you are tired. The majority of injuries occur at the end of the day once fatigue has started. If you are questioning whether or not to take one more run, it’s time to call it a day!

Here is a website with lots of great information about ski and snowboard safety and injury prevention:

Photo Credit: Flickr/Trysil

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