It’s that time of year, winter’s here and for many people the slopes are calling! Skiing is fantastic for cardiovascular health and helps to tone and refine muscles, but it can also put an enormous strain on your body. Most people probably go skiing infrequently, maybe once a year and are therefore not “ski fit”, leading to potential problems.
Nikos Stamos, Physiotherapist at London Medical provides a few tips to help you prepare for the slopes and prevent you from injuring yourself, and ruining that all important holiday. The most common ski injuries are damaged knee ligaments, snowboarder’s ankle, skier’s thumb, wrist fracture and head/spinal injuries.
- Make sure you are in a good physical condition prior to your holiday. Aerobic fitness levels should be worked on 2-3 months prior to your trip. Leg muscle strength and endurance is particularly important to help prevent injury.
- Cardiovascular fitness is essential to get the most out of your day and preserve a level of energy into the afternoons.
- Try building up your thigh muscles- Exercise bikes, cross trainers and leg weight machines will all be a huge benefit in creating endurance and leg strength to improve your ski fitness.
- Swiss Ball exercises are great for building balance, stability and strength and will help to reduce the risk of falls.
- Strengthening the muscles around the knee joint is important for preventing injuries to the ligaments in the knee. Squats and box step ups are all great exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knees.
- Pilates is the perfect exercise to work on your core muscles as well as your pelvis and hip muscles. A stronger core will help you ski more efficiently and prevent back ache. Consider booking a few classes prior to your holiday to work on your core strength and flexibility.
- If you have your own gear, get it serviced. If you’re hiring, make sure you’re honest both about your level of ability, as well as your height and weight. Over or underestimating either can result in over-tight bindings meaning your skis do not release with increased risk of injury. Ensure that all equipment fits properly. Consider a ski helmet- most serious head injuries occur when skiers or boarders hit trees, rocks or people and wearing a helmet can reduce these injuries.
On the Snow:
- Warm up properly. Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury such as sprains, strains and ruptures. A proper warm-up prepares the muscles you will use in training and prepares the joints for movement and stability throughout a full range of motion.
- Start slowly and increase the intensity and complexity of the warm-up.
- Perform a series of stretches which focus on your torso and shoulders, calf, hamstrings and groin.
- Try practising appropriate skiing movements while you’re heading to the lift queue.
- On colder or windy days make sure you take extra time for your warm up. Warm muscles are not only stronger but the elastic properties are increased allowing for better shock absorption.
- Set your bindings correctly. Skiers using incorrectly adjusted skis and bindings are more likely to suffer injury.
- Recognise when you’re getting tired and adjust your activities. More injuries occur in the late afternoon when concentration lapses. Weak, tired muscles give less protection to the joints and make them more prone to injury.
- Braces: If you’ve previously suffered a knee injury then you may wish to wear a brace to protect your knee. Evidence suggests that you are less likely to suffer repeat injury if you do. The different types and manufacturers of braces are numerous and you should discuss this with your physiotherapist or knee specialist. As wrist fractures are very common in snowboarders it is advisable that you use a wrist brace.
Back on a level:
- Adequate warm down will make the following day easier. Carrying out a thorough stretching routine will help muscles relax and recover. Important muscles to stretch are quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, gluteals, lower back and hip flexors.
- Take a warm bath, failing that try a hot tub session, or a sauna. Most ski resorts will have spa facilities where you can jump in a tub or visit the steam room after a day on the slopes. Once you are warm and relaxed, try a few of the key muscle stretches, this will help reduce aches and pains the next day.
- Rehydrate yourself. Drinking low-sugar, caffeine-free sports drinks will help. If you did not drink fluids while skiing, your muscles could be sore from an electrolyte imbalance. Drink a sports drink after your ski session to relieve any muscle soreness.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer injury on the slopes, seek attention immediately. Clinics in ski resorts are well experienced in dealing with skiing injuries. Make sure not to ski with an injury before seeking medical attention.
Nikos Stamos MSc, BSc (Hons), Dip Inj Ther, MMACP is a very experienced MSK physiotherapist interested in sports rehabilitation. He works in the London Medical at 49 Marylebone High Street, London. For more information, visit www.londonmedical.co.uk