Written by Liz Webster, Physiotherapist – Elizabeth Webster Physiotherapy
With the ski season just beginning and many heading to the slopes for some winter sports, we look at how best to avoid injuries so you can make the most of your holiday…
RISK OF INJURY WHEN SKIING
The risk of injury when skiing is actually fairly low, with just 2-3 people per 1000 requiring medical help. Fortunately the rate of skiing injuries has reduced since the 1970s by about 50%, largely due to improvements in ski equipment, slope design and skiing instruction. However, it is important not to become complacent when it comes to skiing; the risk of injury will be dramatically increased without proper preparation, especially for novice skiers.
1. Knee Injuries
Research shows that the most common injuries in skiing are to the knees, which account for about 30% of all injuries. These include Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears, where the knee twists beyond its normal range of movement, causing a ‘pop’ in the knee and the feeling of the joint being dislocated. The injury will cause significant swelling and will take several weeks to heal, possibly even requiring surgery. Another common knee injury is a Media Collateral Ligament (MCL) tear, which occurs when force is applied to the side of a bent knee, usually when the skier falls in the snowplough position. It will result in pain, swelling and bruising, and treatment includes rest and physiotherapy, and for more severe cases a knee brace or surgery may be required.
2. Skiers Elbow
Similar to tennis elbow, this results in pain in the muscles which attach to the elbow and is caused by the sustained muscle contraction needed for gripping ski poles.
3. Skiers Thumb
This injury occurs when a skier falls whilst holding a pole, causing force to be applied across the thumb joint and leading to a partial or full ligament tear. The sufferer will feel tenderness and will need to exercise the thumb in order to aid recovery.
4. Shoulder Dislocation
If a skier falls directly onto a shoulder, or onto an outstretched hand, the force can cause a shoulder dislocation. Immediate treatment will be required, with the shoulder needing to be replaced back into its joint by a trained medical professional. The sufferer will then need to wear their arm in a sling for several weeks until fully recovered.
Thankfully, head injuries in skiing have been significantly reduced, due to the increased use of protective helmets in the sport. It is, however, important to be vigilant if a skier receives a head injury, and immediate medical help must be sought if their symptoms include vomiting, drowsiness, confusion or weakness in the limbs.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET INJURED
• Stop Sking!
You may be desperate to get back on your skis and make the most of your holiday, but skiing when injured can drastically worsen an injury.
• Seek Medical Advice
Don’t rely on self-diagnosis following a skiing injury. Make sure you see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis or your injury and guidance on how to treat it.
• Follow ‘PRICE’
PROTECT your injury by using a support, REST for 2-3 days, apply ICE to the injured area using a cold compress, use a COMPRESSION bandage to limit movement and ELEVATE the area a little above the level of your heart.
• Avoid ‘HARM’
Stay clear of HEAT (including hot baths), ALCOHOL (which can increase bleeding and swelling), RUNNING (and other exercise which can cause further injury) and MASSAGE (which can increase swelling).
TIPS TO REDUCE RISK OF INJURY
• Ensure you have the right equipment
Research has shown that skiers who use incorrectly fitting equipment are 8 times more likely to get injured. Ensure your ski boots, skis and bindings are appropriate for your height and ability. It is also essential to wear a helmet.
• Stay safe on the slopes
Make sure you ski only on marked trails, as off-piste skiing means more chance of obstacles such as rocks and trees. Reduce your risk of collision with other skiers by stopping in a safe place, follow signs and only ski on slopes which are suitable for your ability. It is also recommended to avoid alcohol at lunchtime, as this will reduce your reaction times and increase the risk of injury.
• Learn proper technique
For beginner skiers, it is essential to have professional lessons before hitting the slopes, and to then ensure proper technique is maintained.
The key to effective technique is keeping your hands and weight forward, legs parallel and hips, knees and ankles flexing equally. Make sure that your weight is balanced in the snowplough position with your knees in line with your 2nd or 3rd toes. When landing a jump keep your weight forward to avoid knee injuries. It is important to go with the momentum of a fall, rather than trying to stand up straight, as this is often the cause of ACL tears.
It’s a good idea to warm up your muscles each day before you start skiing. Do some movements which emulate the skiing action, along with some stretching exercises, in order to reduce the likelihood of injury.
• Improve your strength and fitness
Preparation is key; quite simply, being fitter and stronger will reduce your risk of injury. Even if you are used to doing other sports, such as running or cycling, you will need to condition the body for the specific requirements of skiing. Start at least 6 weeks before your trip and use a combination of cardio-vascular work for endurance and specific exercises such as lunges and squats to improve leg strength. Pilates is also an excellent way of building core strength and increasing flexibility.
Balance is important for skiing and you can improve yours with simple exercises, such as standing on an uneven surface on one leg and trying single leg dips.
• Take a rest day
You are at a higher risk of injury when you are tired, so take a rest day and give your muscles chance to recover.
HOW PHYSIOTHERAPY CAN HELP
If you are planning a skiing trip, our experienced Physiotherapists can advise you on a programme of exercises designed to best prepare you for your holiday and to help you reduce the risk of injury.
If you are unfortunate enough to sustain an injury, we offer treatment in the form of manual therapy and soft tissue techniques, electrotherapy and rehabilitative exercise programmes.
For further information or to book a physiotherapy appointment, please call us on 01423 884162 or visit www.elizabethwebster.co.uk.
Stay safe on the slopes and happy skiing!