Mouth-clogging, breath-stealing powder days are here! Whether you glide through the powder on a pair of sticks or astride a board, you’ll need strength, endurance, flexibility and balance to make it through the ski season with your dignity (and your bones, joints and muscles) in one piece.
According to www.ski-injury.com, damage to the knees, including the ACL, accounts for 30-40% of all alpine ski injuries. And if you’ve ever heard the dreaded popping noise that comes with a sprained or torn ligament, you know your season’s just been cut painfully short.
But Joanna Kahn, licensed Physical Therapist based in Park City, Utah, points out there’s plenty you can do before the season’s in full swing to protect your knees now and happily ever after. In fact, studies published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (as cited in Horwitz, 2008, pg. 15) show that with the right training, serious knee injuries can be slashed by as much as 62%!
Top 4 Ways to Prevent a Knee Blow-Out
Kahn tells us the top 4 causes of skiing-related knee injuries and how to counteract them:
1. Give “Kissing Knees” the Kiss Off
When your knees collapse inward, it puts a lot of stress on the supporting knee ligaments. Avoid “kissing knees” by keeping your hips, knees and ankles in alignment. Whether you’re doing squats at the gym or just walking up stairs, be conscious of your form. Keep your knees over your ankles and pointing forward.
2. Balance Your Quad to Hamstring Strength Ratio
Your hamstring muscles protect the ACL by supporting it. Weak hamstrings can lead to ACL injuries. If the hamstring in the back of the leg is no match for the power, strength, and speed of the quadriceps in front, this imbalance causes considerable stress to the ACL. Counteract imbalances by focusing on strengthening those quads and hamstrings before ski season starts.
3. Strengthen Your Hips
Hip strength is key to how well you perform on the slopes, and it protects your knees and back. Your hip muscles – especially the external rotators and abductors – hold your knees steady, keeping them from collapsing inward as you put pressure on your ski edges to turn. Strong hips will not only help you avoid those kissing knees and maintain proper skiing form, but they’ll take a lot of stress off your lower back.
Strengthen your hips with lunges, lateral lunges and side planks. Add exercises that challenge your balance, such as standing on one leg, or on a BOSU ball, to round out your training program.
4. Better Core Control
Balance is critical in winter sports. Having a strong core translates into better balance and stability on the slopes, and less stress to the knees. And since skiing involves plenty of twisting and turning, a powerful core will help you stay in control while maintaining good form. This greatly reduces your risk of injury!
3 Smart Tips to Squeeze the Most Out of Every Blue Bird Day
Kahn emphasizes that the best way to prevent skiing or snowboarding injuries is with conditioning programs you start at least six weeks before hitting the slopes. But, it’s NEVER too late to start.
Here are Kahn's top three recommendations for getting the most out of your winter sports:
1. Be Flexible
A big part of injury prevention is warming up specific to your sport. Kahn points out that more recent research shows doing static stretches (when you hold a stretch for up to 30 seconds) before engaging in your sport, “has the potential to decrease your strength – and you don’t want that before heading out on the slopes.”
Instead, she recommends doing a dynamic warm-up that mimics the movements you’ll be performing in your sport. By actively engaging the muscles you’ll be using, you’re increasing
circulation and warming up the tendons and ligaments, so they’re more pliable and less likely to strain or tear. This is especially important when doing outdoor activities in cold temps.
Kahn suggests these dynamic warm-ups to stay pain-free: http://www.personalptparkcity.com/Personal_PT_Park_City/Videos.html
As for those static stretches, don’t throw them away. Save them for your cool-down when you’re done skiing. These stretches will help rebalance your body for the next day’s activities.
2. Listen To Your Body
So often, ACL tears happen at the end of the day when ‘I just went for one more run.’ When you’re tired, it’s easy to tweak a knee or tear something. Ski easier at the end of the day when you’re fatigued. Listen to your body and stop when your body tells you it’s time.
3. Work On Your Endurance, Strength & Flexibility Throughout the Year
“Building strength takes time. It’s not like you can do it this week and be ready next week,” Kahn points out. “After all, it’s not about getting stronger now, it’s about getting strong and staying strong throughout the seasons. Build on your conditioning every season – you’ll be really impressed with your performance.”
Joanna Kahn is a Park-City based physical therapist licensed in Utah and California. Joanna offers personalized, one-to-one treatments at her Personal PT clinic in Prospector or in the convenience of clients’ homes or lodging accommodations. For more information, please visit: http://www.personalptparkcity.com