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Preventing Common Skiing Injuries:Stay Safe on the Slopes.

Well the skiing season is upon us again. I know this because Ski Sunday is almost back on T.V and very welcome it is too. If I cant go skiing then I am quite happy to watch somebody else do it and immeasurably better than myself. But soon the clinic will begin to fill with injured skiers, So what can we do to limit the chances of picking up a skiing injury:

How should I prepare for skiing?

The trick here is to make your ski training as close to possible as to what you are actually asking your muscles to do. In the world of Sports Science we call it specificity. So, heres a nice specific exercise,

Take Gym ball /Swiss ball/Exercise ball (they are all the same thing), put it against a wall, lean against the ball with the ball in the nice natural curve in the small of your back. Now lift one leg and and perform a single leg mini squat. Try it and then enjoy the best ski break ever!

Is there a really good exercise for skiing?

A common exercise that is frequently suggested is a double leg squat leaning against the wall, but this does not meet the requirement of ‘Specificity’. So let’s dig into why our single leg version with a ball is so effective. Think about the following questions, because if you can question an exercise then you can decide for yourself if it is worth investing your effort into:

  • Why are we choosing this over the often given out; two legged wall squat?
  • Why only one leg when we ski on two?
  • Why the ball, what is it adding?
  • Why the lean into the ball, why not stand upright, what are we working when we do this?

What makes an effective ski exercise:

We may appear to ski on two legs but unless you are standing waiting to start one is always being loaded more than the other as the terrain changes, this makes this exercise more representative of what your body will experience than a more traditional double leg squat. The ball is then adding an element of twisting, which is really important too. We want to lean into the ball so we set our body and particularly our lower limbs at an angle. So, let’s put those last two into the equation to see why its useful:

If we lean into the ball we take our knees, ankles and hips away from a stable position of loading in compression and present them with a shear force. The ball also requires us to stabilise against twisting through the knee and hip. So, what we have now done is present the joints of the legs with a ‘controlled’ shear and rotation. Think of the variety of forces acting on a ski and up though the leg, does this suddenly all look more useful than a two legged wall squat.

How can I avoid skiing injuries?

It is really helpful to understand the mechanism of the most common skiing injury…the knee. The reason knee injuries occur when a skier falls is due failure of the ski to release. We now have of a long lever (the ski) twisting the leg.

This twisting wont hurt the ankle as its locked in the boot but the next movable joint is the knee. The twisting is unlikely to hurt the hip as that has strong muscles that deal with and create large rotational forces every day, but the knee has very little active rotation and is therefore poor at stopping high rotational forces. Most ski injury’s occur (counter intuitively) at slower speeds, where the forces are not high enough to create a release.

How can I avoid getting stuck in the skis?

Simple: Watch those DIN settings

This is a setting on the bindings that allows the Ski to release from the boot in the event of a crash. The setting is adjustable depending on factors such as height weight and the type of skiing you or you do.

If you own ski’s then you probably know how to adjust this yourself, but for most recreational skiers its a hire set and the technician will/should ask you lots of questions about your vital statistics and your skiing ability. They will/should then use a chart to set your bindings (notice we keep saying ‘should’).

We are not going to suggest a setting here, as it’s not appropriate to do so, but there are questions you should ask and things to be aware of:

  • Exactly what we just said, when you hire, even on a dry slope you should not just be handed a pair of skis, those vital Stats should be requested.
  • Make sure you know your vital stats for when / if you are lucky enough to be asked.

Be completely honest when asked about your skiing level / ability / planned runs for that day.

Are certain types of skiers more likely to get injured?

Not really. It is more about understanding why your ski might not release in certain situations or may release when you don’t want it to!

Higher ability skiers need a high DIN setting so that their ski’s don’t accidentally release on steep rough terrain whilst skiing, but that also means their ski’s are unlikely to release at slow speed such as coming off the slopes at the end of the day as you follow the green and yellow runs back to the bar. There are two solutions to this issue:

  1. If you are a higher level skier and are happy to adjust your bindings on the slopes then simply drop the setting when you are on the final easy slopes making your way back to the bar at the end of the day. It’s quicker and easier than knee surgery.
  2. If you are a higher level skier but are on hire skis or don’t want to mess with your settings then just be extra attentive on those final easier slopes. Many a skier has got overly casual on easier runs and fallen, but not carrying the speed to generate the force to release a high Din setting.

Exactly the same principle applies for a lower level skiers, your bindings need to release at slow speeds so make sure the DIN setting is low. Don’t worry the ski wont actually come off whilst skiing as those runs will be smoother and non aggressive

In fact this principle applies to all skiers! The DIN setting must reflect your skiing and that means checking when you collect and being aware that the setting for one level may be an issue when flitting between easy and hard runs, but only you can decide what to do about that element.

Should I warm up before skiing?

In a simple word: Yes! But also we are dealing with a cold environment and that has an additional impact on injury potential if we don’t warm up first.

Muscles display viscoelastic properties, meaning there is a fluid based component to the muscles makes up. Anything viscoelastic becomes more pliable with heat and stiffer with cold. Prove this to yourself with a piece of Blu-tack, which is a viscoelastic material. Put it outside on a cold day, or pop it in the fridge then try to stretch it.

Now role it in your warm hands or pop it in your pocket, once its warm give it a stretch and watch the difference.When we ask our limbs to go through a larger range of movement than normal everyday activities, such as going from a walking length stride to a longer running stride the muscles will have to stretch further to allow that to happen. This is the point at which we can ‘pull’ muscles. Think about that Blu-tack and make sure you do a little extra in your warm up.

So get prepared and go and have a great skiing holiday.

To understand how we treat sporting injuries, take a look here.

For more information on skiing injuries, take a look here.