How do YOU protect your KNEES when skiing?!?

As the air gets cooler our thoughts slowly shift to the upcoming ski season! With any sport comes risk, but when venturing onto the slopes, most of us know that skiing comes with an increased risk of ACL injuries. 

The ACL – anterior cruciate ligament – is an important ligament for the stability of your knee. Skiing is generally associated with higher impact forces and higher twisting forces than many other sports. In skiers, the knee is the most commonly injured body part. ACL injuries occur in almost everyone who ends up in hospital following a knee injury while skiing. But worry not! Exercise-based ACL prevention strategies exist for recreational alpine skiers. This blog leans on the work by Martin Burtscher’s editorial “Creating awareness about exercise-based ACL prevention strategies in recreational alpine skiers” (2023).

Understanding the ACL

The ACL plays a pivotal role in stabilizing the knee joint, especially during activities like skiing that demand sudden stops, quick turns, and jumps. A torn ACL can result in significant pain, instability, and long rehabilitation. Prevention is undoubtedly the key, and the good news is that it’s not as complex as it may seem.

When looking at prevention, I want to highlight the significance of balance, strength, and flexibility. Through targeted exercises, skiers can enhance their neuromuscular control, which reduces the risk of ACL injuries substantially.

Exercise-Based Prevention: A Skier’s Arsenal

  1.       Balance Training: Balance is the cornerstone of skiing. Incorporating balance exercises into your routine can enhance proprioception, teaching your body to react swiftly to uneven terrain and unexpected movements. Personally I like to add single-leg stance exercises on unstable surfaces with the other leg and/or arm moving and doing different tasks. If you don’t have a balance board, try standing on a carpeted floor or a cushion to challenge your single-leg balance.
  1.       Strength Building: Focus on strengthening the muscles around your knees, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Resistance training and bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges can be immensely beneficial. Personally I like double-leg squats and rear-lunges into single-leg deadlifts.
  1.       Flexibility Exercises: Regular stretching, especially targeting your quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors, can improve your range of motion, allowing for smoother, controlled movements on the slopes. I like to mix in some bootstrap hamstring stretches and quads with foot up on a bench stretching.
  1.       Plyometrics: These explosive exercises, like jumping and hopping, can improve your muscle power and agility, which carries over into navigating varied ski terrains. Here it’s great to mix in some side to side ‘skater’ hops and some single leg ‘high-as-possible’ jumps.
  1.       Proper Technique: Enlist the guidance of a professional ski instructor to learn and master the correct skiing techniques. Proper form significantly reduces the stress on your knees. I used to be a certified ski instructor and certified adaptive ski instructor. Their work is excellent! Being able to navigate and stop appropriately instead of falling, or improving your economy to reduce fatigue at the end of the day is always worthwhile! Don’t let the “last run of the day” be your last run of the season.

The Journey to Injury-Free Skiing

Injury prevention is never an exact science, and it requires dedication and consistency. Incorporate these exercises into your regular fitness routine, ideally starting several weeks before the ski season. Remember, the goal is not just to prevent injuries but also to enhance your overall skiing experience. Now is a great time to start looking ahead to the upcoming season!

As a physiotherapist, I urge you to listen to your body. If you experience any discomfort or pain, do not ignore it. Seek professional advice promptly to address minor issues before they escalate.

Tim Schmidt works at our Valleyview clinic location.To book an appointment with Tim or any of our experienced therapists, click HERE or call the clinic at 250-314-0788.