Experienced downhill skiers often reach speeds of 25mph, during which they are executing jumps, twists and turns. That’s what makes the sport fun, demanding, and satisfying. It’s also what creates the risk of a variety of ski injuries, particularly of an ACL injury.
In the past, skiers broke more legs. Not that leg fractures never occur any more, but over the past decade, improved bindings have vastly decreased the frequency of this once common injury. These days, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most common site of injury among skiers. The statistics are astounding; according to reliable information from Vermont Safety Research, around 20,000 skiers suffer ACL injuries annually.
So what is an (ACL) injury?
A ligament is a band of elastic tissue connecting bones. Cruciate (crossing) ligaments are pairs that cross, complementing each other in connecting and stabilizing a joint. The anterior (front) cruciate ligament and its partner, the posterior (back) cruciate ligament, join the femur to the tibia. One of the ACL’s jobs is to prevent the shin bone from sliding too far forward. Additionally, the ACL commands knee rotation. A torn ACL will cause immense pain that can be quite prolonged, and will also require you to keep off the skis for a while during recovery.
There are a few more months of good snow! To get the most out of them, follow these tips on preventing an ACL injury.
ACL protection should be a routine part of every skier’s training program, whether you are a professional or just skiing for fun. The key to preventing this kind of injury is ensuring overall stability of the muscle groups around the knee joint.
1.) Thigh and hip exercises provide additional support for ligaments in the knee.
A skier needs adequate strength in the thighs and hips to help support the knee effectively. When the upper legs are stronger, they take strain off ligaments. Remember that this strain is amplified by skiing at very high speeds. Of course, strengthening the thigh and hip muscle groups is not a onetime effort, since building up muscle takes time. Applying consistent effort in a regular exercise regimen greatly increases your knee’s protection from strain. Reliable strengthening exercises to support knee ligaments include squats, lunges and hamstring exercises.
2.) Core exercises build balance and stability to improve posture, aiding agility.
Your core muscles, the muscles of your midsection, are essential for posture, balance and control even at high speeds. Balance and control give you the agility to change directions and accelerate without errors that put strain on your knees. They enable you to jump and land with proper technique, ensuring that your knees are not too strained.
3.) To reduce your vulnerability to ACL injuries, consider recreational activities that will help build full-body muscle tone.
While it’s good to focus on your core and upper legs, the fact is that downhill skiing uses just about every muscle you have. Full-body muscle fitness is particularly important if you are a pro skier or if you plan to ski on a regular basis. Full-body routines on machines at fitness centers are good and can be practiced year-round, whatever the weather. But don’t discount recreational activities that help build overall muscle in preparation for downhill skiing. These include swimming, yoga, tennis, biking, and walking regularly.
The fitter and more flexible you are, the less likely you are to injure yourself. If you unfortunately do suffer a ski injury, contact Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht, M.D. with IASM.
With his help, along with his professional staff at the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco, you can get the most effective treatment for faster recovery and healing. Give us a call at 415-923-0944.