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Knees, Wrists & Ankles Beware – Ski Season is Here

Winter is in full swing, and ski season is officially here.  It’s the time of year when we see a rash of knee injuries, especially sprains and tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Skiing puts a lot of stress on the ACL.  This relates to the design of the ski boot, particularly the way it drives the leg forward and locks the ankle.  Typically, we see ACL injuries in young skiers who wish to challenge themselves on advanced slopes.  That’s why it’s important for skiers to know their limits as they progress to more difficult terrain.  We also see many injuries from the last run of the day.  Here, fatigue plays a role. When skiers get tired, they can lose their focus and injuries can occur. 

While snowboarding is easier on the knees, it’s a sport that does threaten the wrists and ankles, including sprains, strains and fractures.  Snowboarding injuries are not as common as ski injuries, but they do happen.

Avoiding Injury
As a skier or snowboarder, you can proactively do several things to help avoid injury:

  1. Be physically prepared to hit the slopes by ensuring that your body is in shape.  Prior to your trip, do exercises to strengthen your quads and hamstrings and to increase your flexibility.
  2. Wear the proper protective gear, including a helmet, wrist guards and even knee pads.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings on the slopes.  Ensure that the terrain is smooth and that you have plenty of space.
  4. Know your body.  If there are certain challenges or hills you are not physically prepared for, don’t push yourself too far.
  5. Know your limits.  When you start to get tired, it’s time to call it a day.

How Will You Know?
ACL injuries are characterized by a tremendous amount of swelling in the knee and the inability to put any weight on that knee.  Additionally, you’ll probably hear a pop or feel like your knee has given out.  Wrist or ankle injuries will also create swelling, and it will be painful to put weight on the injured joint.

Next Steps After Injury
After an injury on the slopes, especially a knee injury, it’s important to ice early and aggressively.  And if you are in pain, don’t keep skiing or snowboarding – you could cause further damage.  Additionally, you should probably spend the rest of your time away from the slopes, either by sipping hot chocolate in the ski lodge or ending your trip early and heading home. 

Once home, make an appointment to see your doctor for an evaluation.  For example, if you have injured your knee while skiing and it turns out to be a torn ACL, you’ll either need reconstructive surgery or to modify your lifestyle and activities – i.e. no more skiing. 

Our best advice to winter sports enthusiasts – take the necessary precautions before you hit the slopes and during your activities to avoid injury and keep your body safe from harm.

Dr. Jonathan Chappell is an orthopedist with Wake Orthopaedics.