Knee injuries in skiing are common. The popularity of skiing has exploded over the last 20 years mainly due to increased ski areas, use of snow cannons, cheaper flights and faster ski lifts.
With increased accessibility and increased numbers of
recreational skiers, the number of skiing injuries have gone up markedly.
The most common skiing injuries are lower limb injuries including leg fracture , ankle injury and knee injury. The development of the rigid ski boot in the 1970’s is reported to have shifted injuries up the leg from the ankle to the knee, however; since ski boots, ski bindings and the shape of skis have all changed its not easy to pin point why we see so many more knee injuries in clinic but we do!
In a 2015 study1 comparing injury types and rates
between 1996 and 2013, knee injuries were shown to be the most common, head
injuries reduced (possibly but not definitely because of the uptake of helmet
use) and skiing in the afternoon when tired (and possibly after a drink)
increased your chance of getting injured.
Another study2 showed that about 75% of
skiers/snowboarders injured themselves falling or losing control on a jump
whilst only 3-8% of those injured did so due to collision with other skiers or
What both studies seem to suggest is that many injuries are preventable!
What are the most common Knee Injuries in skiing and how do we injure them?
Knee injuries in skiing contribute about 30% of all skiing injuries, with the Medial Collateral ligament (MCL), closely and Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) being the most commonly injured structures in the knee.
The three most common ways of injuring the knee are:
- Valgus/external rotation mechanism
- The skier falls forward and catches their inside
edge, which causes the ski to twist out and move away from the skiers body
twisting the knee, injuring the MCL and sometimes ACL.
- Boot induced anterior drawer mechanism
- The skier lands a jump with locked knees and
lands the back of the ski first. The boot then pushes forward on the calf injuring
- Phantom-foot mechanism
- The skier falls backwards between their skis,
with all the weight on their downhill ski. The bent knee then twists in hard
with all their body weight causing injury to the MCL and ACL.
Can you get fit for skiing?
Yes you can get fit for skiing…….but…….that’s not the same
as saying you can reduce your chance of injury by getting fitter or doing
certain types of exercises. It’s complicated.
The evidence that certain exercise programs or certain leg
and core conditioning classes reduce your chance of injury just isn’t there. It
doesn’t mean doing the right exercises won’t reduce injuries but we just can’t
say so for sure. The studies either haven’t been done or the ones that have
weren’t good enough to tell us much of use.
I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t bother, in fact
I’m saying the opposite, you should. It makes a great deal of sense to me that
the fitter you are the lower your chances of injuring yourself due to muscle
fatigue. I feel from personal experience that my time and performance on the
slopes was improved when I’ve been fitter going into the ski holiday. Being well-prepared will help you get in
more runs with less fatigue and will probably leave you better prepared for the
rare emergency requiring strength or endurance.
How to reduce Ski Knee Injury
I’ll describe in another blog post what I would recommend
doing to try and get your body ski ready, but before I deal with that there are
some things we do know will reduce your chance of injury:
- Ski within your limits (get lessons)
- Be aware of different conditions (this takes
- Use the correct gear (your bindings should be
set correctly as the majority of knee injuries occur when bindings do not
release the ski)
- Listen to your body (fatigue, light headed etc)
- Fall correctly (keep knees flexed and don’t stand
up in the fall or in a slide)
Before you all roll your eyes and think how obvious these points are, you should consider that ignoring them is still (unsurprisingly) the quickest and most common way to get yourself injured. It doesn’t matter how many ski sits and balance exercises you do, or how good your core is, IGNORE THESE POINTS AT YOUR PERIL!
If you or anyone you know is suffering from knee pain and would like to have a physiotherapy assessment for suitability of physiotherapy treatment, contact us here.
- Patrick E et al, Changes in
Skiing and Snowboarding Injury Epidemiology and Attitudes to Safety in Big Sky,
Montana, USA, A Comparison of 2 Cross-sectional Studies in 1996
and 2013, Orthop J Sports Med. 2015 Jun; 3(6): 2325967115588280
- Stenroos A,
Handolin L: Incidence of recreational alpine skiing and snowboarding injuries:
Six years experience in the largest ski resort in Finland. Scand J Surg
- Koehle, M et al, Alpine ski injuries and their
prevention, Sports Medicine 2002, 32, 12, 785-793.