With the winter Olympics in full swing, many people may be getting the itch to hit the slopes themselves. Before you hit the slopes, you should be aware of the common knee injuries related to downhill skiing and how to prevent them.
Changes in ski equipment over the years, including the bindings, boots, and skis themselves have decreased the rate of ankle sprains and leg fractures but the rate of knee injuries have increased1. The most common injuries occur to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The MCL is typically torn when skiers are in the snowplow position, where the tips of the skis are turned inward to help slow the skier down. Another mechanism of injury to the MCL is when the skier begins to fall forward, catching the tip of the ski snow, causing an inward and rotational force on the knee.
The “phantom foot” mechanism and an improper landing from a jump are two ways the ACL is often torn. The “phantom foot” mechanism occurs when a skier loses his balance and tries to stand up to prevent a fall. During this position, the skier’s weight gets shifted to one ski while their body rotates the other direction, causing a rotational force to the knee. Many inexperienced skiers land from a jump with their weight back, causing the back of the skies to contact the snow first. This causes the boot to push the lower leg forward while the body weight is still shifted back, causing a sheer force to the ACL.
To avoid injuries on the slopes, always make sure you are staying in control, are aware of your surroundings, and only attempting runs that match your skill level. Below are some exercises to help strengthen your hips and knees before you plan to shred that fresh powder:
- Double-legged squat: Start with your feet shoulder width apart and sit back like you are sitting in a chair. Keep your knees behind your toes and avoid collapsing your knees inward. Perform 10-15 repetitions and repeat 3 times.
- Single legged squat: Stand on one leg, you can use a counter top for balance. Just like the double-legged squat, sit back like you are sitting in a chair while keeping your knees behind you toes and preventing your knees from collapsing inward. Perform 10-15 repetitions and repeat 3 times on each leg.
- Side to side skaters or side steps: Start in a squat position and take a large step out to the side, hold that position for a few seconds and then take a large step back the other direction. You can also put a resistance band around your legs and sidestep in a squat position. Perform 10-15 repetitions and repeat 3 times.
- Side plank: Begin lying on your side then prop yourself up on your elbow and either your knees or feet, maintaining a straight line from your shoulder to your hips. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
For pictures and further description of these exercises see the link below:
As always, if you have questions on how to perform these exercises or would like more information on how to prepare for your upcoming trip please stop in and visit with one of our physical therapists. We have many convenient locations in Omaha and Lincoln.
Jordan Nieto, PT, DPT
- Shea, K.G., et al. (2014). Knee Injuries in Downhill Skiers. Orthop J Sports Med, 2(1). Doi: 10.1177/2325967113519741