Winter is here and if you're planning a ski holiday this season make sure you’re ready for the slopes by putting in some ski or board-specific prep to condition your body and reduce the risk of picking up an injury.
We’ve all heard horror stories of friends snapping knee ligaments on their ski holiday and whilst this can happen, it’s more likely to be a run-of-the-mill hamstring or calf strain that you’ll be managing after a few days on the slopes. Don’t underestimate the physical effects of a day on your skis in low temperatures, working muscles you’ve not used in this way for a while and absorbing the impacts and stresses of new and different conditions.
So whether you’re a pro or a beginner, or somewhere in between, the good news is most injuries are preventable, by doing ski-specific strength and conditioning work over the next few weeks your body and mind will be better prepared for your holiday, you’ll recover more effectively each day and be able to make the most of your time on the snow.
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What are the most common winter sport injuries?
Ski injury by body location. Credit: SOS International
1. Knee ligament injuries – injuries to the ligaments in the knee (ACL, MCL) are common winter sport injuries and normally happen when the knee is twisted under pressure, such as changing direction quickly, poor technique when landing from a jump or a fall.
2. Skiers thumb – this is a sprain or tear of the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb. It mostly happens when a skier falls an outstretched thumb, whilst holding a ski pole.
3. Snowboarders fracture – this is usually a fracture of the wrist (distal radius) or scaphoid, a small bone in the wrist, which happens when a boarder falls back onto an outstretched hand.
4. Shoulder dislocation – often associated with a fall backwards or sideways and whilst the shoulder is at an awkward angle. We’ve seen a few from slipping on the ice on a pavement, so be careful off the slopes as well.
5. Hamstring and calf injuries – these aren’t usually traumatic injuries, most likely strains to the muscles due to overuse and being worked at an intensity they’re not used to. Muscle imbalance can contribute to these type of strain injuries, such as weakness in your glutes and ineffective warm-ups.
Yes, it’s quite common for people to hit the snow unprepared – but with some good preparation, commitment and the right strength and conditioning work you’re general fitness, strength, balance and technique can mean you reduce your risk of injury.
How can you do your best to prevent injury?
1. Technique. Take the time to learn a good ski or snowboard technique. If you’re a beginner or rusty-returner then booking a place in ski-school or having some tuition with an instructor will help you reduce the risk on injury on your return to the slopes.
2. Strengthen and condition. There are heaps of exercises out there that will help you be better prepared. A comprehensive assessment of your strength, mobility, flexibility and proprioception performed by a physiotherapist or sports specialist will help you choose the most appropriate and important ones for you. However, as a general rule, these exercises below are a really good place to start.
Strength and Conditioning Programme
How many reps and sets? If you're starting from a 'I've not done this for a while' try to repeat 2 sets to fatigue (fatigue means when you lose your form to complete the exercise) and if you've a good level of physical fitness go for 3-4 sets of 12 with just enough rest between sets to recoover.
1. Squats. Pretty standard, but the quads are an important muscle group that is heavily active when skiing and snowboarding, to extend the knee and flex the hip. The muscles at the front of your thighs work hard to keep your skis together and your body stable as you parallel turn.
Three ways to work your quads: standard squat, split squats and wall squats.
2. Balance and Proprioception. A great way to condition the stabilising muscles that support the bigger more powerful muscles is this compass points single leg squat work, good fun!
3. Glutes and Core. Matwork focusing on strengthening the glutes and core muscles through bridges, planks and side clams.
Take 10 minutes before you head out in the morning to warm-up. If you’ve started following the S&C exercises above as a programme, include these as your warm-up, they’re specific to your sport and will activate the major muscle groups you’re going to use. Do 1-2 x sets of each.
Stretching is not key to preventing an injury. There’s no reason not to stretch, if it makes you feel better, stretch away, but it is more important to fire-up and activate the muscles groups you’re about to place additional demands on, that’s the most important part of any warm-up focusing on injury prevention.
Lastly, Apres-ski. It’s fun but it can also lead to a bit of mis-judgement and an increased risk of injury. The effects of alcohol can slow reaction times, impair our balance and give us a feeling of increased confidence. So.... take care!
If you’re able to put into practice the suggestions above, fantastic, you’re putting yourself in a great position to be able to avoid an injury this winter season. If you do get injured, hopefully it will have less of an impact on your holiday and you’ll be able to recover sooner.
Don’t forget if you’d like something more specific to you and your needs or concerns, please call the clinic 01932 645 320 and book into see one of our MSK physiotherapists. Sarah ski’s (at a mediocre level!) and as a former Team GB athlete and Sport Science graduate has excellent S&C knowledge to share with you. You can also book an appointment online here.