Friday, March 16, 2018

Staying (David) Wise on the Slopes


By Jill Jonda, PT
The 2018 Olympic games have come and gone! As we sat in front of our television screens, watching elite athletes perform with skill, speed, and drive to win, a lot of us tend to want to get out there and try to channel our own Olympic skills. As we saw athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, and David Wise swiftly ski down a slope or half pipe without missing a beat, we may have thought, “I can do that!” Those athletes make complex arduous maneuvers look effortless. Unfortunately, when people who may not be as skilled try things that Olympic athletes make look so easy and natural, we tend to see more injuries. Before you hit the slopes, it’s important to be aware of common injuries and how to prevent them.

Because of the structure of the ski boot, the angle it puts on the knee, and of course the variability in the terrain of the snow, one of the more common body regions injured while skiing is, in fact, the knee.  Some of the most common knee-related injuries associated with downhill skiing include medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain, anterior cruciate ligament  (ACL) sprain or tear, and meniscus tear. An injury to all three of these areas is often referred to as the “unhappy triad.”

That may sound pretty intense, but it’s no reason to cancel your trip and try to get your deposit back on your skis and helmet. If you want to have a good time and avoid the risk of injury, follow these steps listed below:

First, you want to understand your skill level.  All too often injuries occur because we end up doing too much too soon and get ourselves into quite a pickle.  If it’s your first time out in a while, take it easy and stay on the easier hills. Better yet, schedule a training session with one of the professionals and get a tune-up on your skills.

Second, it’s always important to warm-up before any type of physical activity, and is especially important for a demanding activity, such as downhill skiing.  A dynamic warm up will help to increase blood flow, prepare the nervous system for increased activity, and improve overall range of motion which all helps to reduce the risk of injury.

Third, it’s important to strengthen key muscles that help prevent aberrant movement of the knee. The hip abductor muscles (specifically, the gluteus medius muscle) help to stabilize the pelvis when weight is shifted onto one leg, which, in turn, prevents inward and torsional stresses on the knee.  If the femur bone becomes internally rotated and adducted (or “knock knee”), this causes a valgus force at the joint, which is the setting of most of these knee injuries. In the same way, the abdominal musculature is also essential in maintaining control and stability while skiing.  A strong core can help to block too much trunk displacement over one leg if you happen to “catch an edge” or lose your footing over a patch of ice and can prevent a fall.  Strong quadriceps and hamstring muscles also assist in demonstrating proper knee joint mechanics, especially as you squat closer to the ground to pick up speed as you ski down the slope.

Here are some options for strengthening exercises you can try before your next ski adventure:

Remember to always be safe and know your limits if you want to stay injury-free on the slopes.  If injury does occur, however, go see your physical therapist!

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