In this article, we will talk about the most common ski injuries and how to prevent them.
I am Aspen, an NZSIA certified ski instructor, APSI certified snowboard instructor, an NZSIA children’s teaching certification holder. I have been teaching skiing for over 10 seasons and have taught over thousands of students.
Today, I will work with Dr. Salman Sabir, a licensed Physiotherapist who holds a Doctor degree in physical therapy and a Master degree in orthopedic manual therapy, to help you understand different types of ski injuries, their causes, and how to avoid them.
Dr. Salman is a specialist in neuromusculoskeletal, sports, and pediatric rehabilitation. He has helped many skiers (including one of our ski school managers) to recover from their injuries, so keep reading for an injuries-free ski trip!
Skiing and Injuries
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), there were 41 catastrophic incidents and 48 fatal incidents reported at U.S. ski areas during the 2020-2021 winter season.
Every year, tens of thousands of skiers and snowboarders participate in snow sports, yet few are prepared for the rigorous physical demands of these sports. When it comes to preparing for your ski season, injuries aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind.
In reality, the chance of sustaining a snowsports injury is often neglected. It’s all part of the learning process and the risk that any extreme activity entails — you can’t reach the top without taking a few knocks. However, you can enjoy your snowsports without worrying about the bad consequences with proper preventive measures.
Although these activities are safe to a greater extent, insufficient preparation, varying snow conditions, and poor judgment can result in accidental injuries.
Physical preparedness, appropriate and properly adjusted equipment, and common sense can help prevent many injuries.
General Rules to Prevent Ski Injuries
Gravity always wins, especially when biffing it. It drives us into the hill and twists our limbs, so it’s no wonder that impact or shearing forces cause the most common ski injuries. However, aside from gravity, various risk factors increase the likelihood of a skier being injured on the slope.
Both variable and non-variable factors can contribute to injury risk. What’s the difference? What you have control over and what you don’t. On the other hand, both categories can be managed with careful planning.
Gear, preparation, fitness, knowing your body, and respecting your boundaries are non-variable risk variables that you can manage. On the other hand, variable factors may be more challenging to manage (thinking, technique, health, snow conditions, etc.).
Skiers can enhance their strategy and awareness by taking lessons and becoming familiar with specific terrain. Still, even the most well-prepared and experienced skiers encounter dangers such as gear failure, poor visibility, and slope traffic.
Let’s look at the most common skiing injuries and their possible prevention.
Sprains and Fractures of the Leg
Because skiers frequently fall and collide with persons and items around them, leg sprains are the most common skiing injuries, followed by fractures. Fractures to the shins and thigh bones are common, and they are more likely in older skiers with brittle bones.
A skier can help prevent leg sprains and fractures by ensuring appropriate equipment and releasable bindings on their skis. Failure to do so can result in ski injuries.
Injuries to the Knees
Let’s start with the most prevalent injuries, beginning with the knee, which seems to take the majority of the abuse during the winter.
The dreadful acronyms ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament) are common topics of conversation in ski resorts; it seems like everyone you know has ripped (or at the very least damaged) one or more of these crucial ligaments.
The medial collateral ligament, which joins your shinbone to your thighbone, is the most common injured knee ligament while skiing. These ski injuries to your MCL can be caused by skiing with an unbalanced weight, especially in a snowplow’s stance.
MCL damage accounts for 20 to 25% of all ski injuries and primarily affects beginning and intermediate skiers while in a snowplow. Advanced skiers, on the other hand, can tear the MCL by catching an edge and throwing the knee outwards.
Prevention and Treatment – Wear a knee support will help for sure. When you ski, make sure you distribute your weight appropriately and stay on the slopes’ even ground. Wearing a knee brace that restricts joint movement is a simple way to manage this ski injury without surgery. It will necessitate a few weeks off the slopes to heal this ski injury.
Pre-season quad conditioning (squats and other exercises), a suitable release value adjusted in your bindings, and beginners avoiding a too wide snowplow stance are all preventative strategies.
Damage to the ACL
One of ski enthusiasts’ most common season-ending injuries is a ruptured ACL. At times it’s easy to miss, and it’s frequently detected too late.
Backward twisting falls, often known as “phantom feet,” are caused by a combination of falling with the uphill arm back, the skier being off balance to the back, the hips sliding below the knees, and the uphill ski becoming completely unweighted.
Attempting to get up while still moving during a fall and recovering from an off-balance position are two circumstances that might lead to this injury.
Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, which keeps your shinbone from slipping in front of your thighbone, is a more painful and severe skiing injury. If you fall backward while your lower leg continues to move forward, you risk hyperextending and shattering the ligament.
Prevention and treatment – There are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of rupturing your ACL:
- When falling, keep your knees flexible. Straighten your legs but not completely.
- When you’re down, don’t get up abruptly.
- Keep your arms up and out in front of you. Allowing them to trail you is not a good idea.
- When jumping, be careful not to land in the “back seat.” The ACL is readily torn by force.
ACL reconstruction almost always necessitates orthopedic surgery and long-term physiotherapy rehabilitation. It’s common to be told not to ski again until your ACL has fully recovered and you’re physically ready.
Injuries to the Hands
Skiers frequently injure their hands since they can easily fall on them when tumbling down the slopes.
Skier’s thumb is one of the most common injuries that happened to beginners, most of the time, it was caused by using the wrong way to hold the ski poles.
The thumb is a particularly vulnerable hand joint when skiing because the ligaments can hyperextend if bent forcefully.
Ski injuries to the hands might be more complicated in the worst-case scenario if the bones are crushed during an accident. This will almost always necessitate orthopedic surgery and a long-term treatment plan that includes limited movement and physiotherapy.
Prevention: Skiers should take precautions to avoid hand injuries by learning good ski techniques and taking instruction. In addition, learning how to hold the poles using the correct way will keep you free from the skier’s thumb.
Injuries to the Shoulder
Shoulder injuries are common ski injuries that occur almost similarly the hand injuries. When skiers fall, they try to save themselves by holding their arms out, but instead, they land hard on their shoulders, resulting in shoulder dislocations.
Shoulder dislocations occur when the humerus bone is forced out of the arm-shoulder socket by force. A rotator cuff injury, which limits shoulder movement and is more dangerous, can arise from a similar ski accident to the shoulder.
Shoulder dislocations are usually treated without surgery because doctors can often snap the shoulder back into place. This, however, can be an excruciating treatment.
If the ski injury tore the rotator cuff in the shoulders, the skier would need orthopedic surgery and a lengthy recuperation time.
Prevention: I have heard some instructors teaching students “how to fall” – drop everything on your hand and wrap your hands around your body to prevent injuries like shoulder dislocations.
Honestly, it’s pretty challenging to do so, even for me, so I would suggest you take a lesson to strengthen your skills and get better at controlling your skis so that you won’t fall.
Injuries to the Head
Trauma to the head is also a common and severe ski injury. A few days before we published this article, The French actor Gaspard Ulliel died in a skiing accident, he crashed with another skier and suffered serious brain trauma.
According to APNews, “Gaspard was not wearing a helmet when rescuers arrived.”
Because head injuries are potentially lethal, all skiers must wear protective helmets. Minor head injuries might be as simple as a few bumps or scratches from falling over.
On the other hand, more significant brain injuries might result in spinal damage or breathing problems, so all skiers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of a concussion, which may necessitate immediate medical attention.
All possible symptoms are unconscious, nausea, dizziness, migraines, bleeding from the ears or nose, and impaired vision. The ski injury must be treated quickly by monitoring the skier’s airway, breathing, and circulation (ABC), which could save their life.
Prevention: Make sure you get a proper ski helmet (don’t use your bike or motorbike helmet!) with ASTM F2040 or CE EN1077 labels, and make sure it fits your head size.
There is a new Multi-directional Impact Protection System MIPS technology developed in the last two years. According to the scientific and medical researchers who developed MIPS, it can reduce the rotational force that will cause the brain to move or stretch and hence reduce the chance of brain damage.
I highly suggest you get a MIPS helmet because it has saved my good friend’s life from a dreadful ski accident. Also, make sure you change the helmet after a major shock or after wearing it for a few years.
Take a look at the below photo, and you can see how a helmet can save your life!
Below is a commonly asked questions and the quick answers regarding ski injuries
How do most ski accidents happen?
Most ski accidents happen because skiers overestimate their skills level and body conditions. For example, a skier who cannot control their skis well heading to the tree runs, or a beginner going to an intermediate slope.
I also realize most ski accidents happen during the first run, the first run after lunch, and the last run of the day. Our bodies are either not yet prepared or too tired to control our skis.
It also happens when skiers lack proper knowledge and safety sense—for example, standing in the middle o the slope or at a place where visibility is not great.
How do I stop my shins from hurting when I ski?
The main reason your shins hurt when you ski (shin bang) is caused by wearing boots don’t fit (mostly because your boots are too large). Your foot moves inside your boot, and your stances are wrong when you ski, causing extra pressure on your shin.
The best solution is to go for a proper boot fitting and see if the boot fitter can help you out.
Another reason could be the boot is too stiff for you (flex rating too high). In such a case, getting a shin pad will help too. But do go for a proper boot fitting first. Our ski school works very closely with a boot fitter, and he suggests that over 90% of skiers suffering from shin bang are caused by wearing the wrong boots.
We believe the best way to prevent ski injuries is to learn from a great ski instructor, with proper skills, knowledge, and safety sense, you should be able to prevent most of the injuries.
Preparing your body for the ski trip is also a good idea, you can start adding some knee, gluteal, hamstring, quad, and core strengthening exercises into your daily workout routine.
Making use of accessories would help too, like strengthening your arm with a medicine ball, and activities like tricep dips.
Wear a helmet and knee support always help, and take a break whenever you are feeling tired, hungry, or cold.
On the other hand, a physiotherapist can help you minimize the rehabilitation period after an injury.