If you’re thinking about hitting the slopes this winter, you may also be thinking about the possibility of injury. Knee injuries, such as MCL or ACL tears, are some of the most commonly reported injuries among skiers. The knee can be injured when:
- The lower leg is thrown outward while going downhill
- The knee is hit directly on its outer side from a collision or fall
- A jump is landed incorrectly, with your weight back instead of forward
- The skier points their skis inward (“snowplow” or “pizza” position) to stop or turn
While these are the most common ways to injure your knee, any fall, collision, or bad landing puts the joint and surrounding ligaments at risk.
Take the worry out of skiing. Follow these 4 tips and keep your knees safe.
1. Condition before you ski
In the weeks gearing up to ski season, a conditioning routine can help prepare your body for the demanding workout it will get on the mountain. A conditioning routine should focus on:
- Strength. Strength-building exercises, such as sit-ups and squats, will help build the core and leg muscles needed to ski with confidence and avoid injury.
- Flexibility. Tight muscles are more easily pulled and injured than ones that have been properly stretched. Before you ski, improve flexibility by daily stretching.
- Balance. Balance and proprioception—the body’s ability to perceive where it is in space—are important aspects of skiing. Improve both by doing special exercises, such as a 1-leg balance, or using a balance board.
Daily running, walking, or cycling can also help prepare you for the cardiovascular demands of skiing.
2. Do a pre-ski warm-up
Skiing is no different than any other workout, and a proper warm-up is recommended. Complete 15 to 20 minutes of stretching and aerobic activity, including lunges, squats, arm circles, and groin stretches, to prepare for a full day of skiing.
If you don’t have room to stretch, take advantage of the walk (or slow ski) to the chairlift, which will get your body moving, muscles warmed up, and heart pumping. A round of light stretching when you get to the top of the mountain can also help reignite muscles that may have cooled down while sitting on the chairlift.
3. Use proper equipment
Having correctly-fitting equipment can be the difference between a fun day on the slopes or one that ends in injury. Make sure that your ski equipment has been sold by a reputable shop and that you have been fitted properly:
- Ski boots and binding should fit securely and comfortably
- Skis and poles should be the correct length for your height
While it may not be a rule at every ski resort or mountain, wearing a helmet can prevent serious and life-threatening injuries.
When purchasing equipment be sure to mention your skill level to the salesperson. Some skis and equipment are specifically designed for more advanced skiers and may not be appropriate for intermediate or beginner skiers.
4. Practice proper form
Proper form while skiing—including when you’re falling—can help prevent injuries. Correct skiing technique includes:
- Keeping your hips above the waist
- Keeping your arms forward
- Maintaining balance and control
You will likely experience varying form throughout the day so you should routinely recognize bad form and correct it.
Falling is an inevitable part of a day on the slopes, and there is a right (and wrong) way to fall. MCL tears commonly occur when a skier recognizes they are going to fall and overcorrects by stiffening up to regain composure. If you fall, you should:
- Go with the flow of the fall. Keep your knees flexed until you have stopped sliding.
- Tuck your body inward. Protect your limbs and face by bringing them toward your core.
- Stay down until you have stopped sliding. Attempting to get back up while still moving makes you more vulnerable for injury.
With some preparation and knowledge, you can ski with a little less worry and avoid a season-ending knee injury.