What can you do to prepare your knees and hips before hitting the slopes?
If you regularly ski or snowboard, getting back into those sports is like riding a bike. You get on the snow and you feel great, but those muscles that you used from the previous season may have atrophied a little bit. Go to the gym a few weeks, or even a few months, before hitting the slopes and get some general mobility back. The stationary bike is excellent because it’s very effective in strengthening ski- and snowboard-specific muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings, and the gluteus complex, which make up the buttocks and are the most powerful muscles around the hip joint. The stationary bike is low impact on the joints, which is healthier for your cartilage. It also gives you a cardio workout, which helps prepare you for long days skiing or snowboarding.
What are some exercises a person can do at home?
One of the most effective moves that people can do at home is stretching the hamstrings, which is good for protecting the lower back. Easy ways to stretch your hamstrings include sitting on a mat or carpet and reaching to your toes, or standing with one leg up on a low table and reaching for your toes, while keeping your knee on that same leg straight. One of my colleagues, Dr. Elan Goldwaser, an osteopathic physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital who is a non-operative sports medicine specialist, says it’s also important to stretch and strengthen the abdomen and lower back, often referred to as the core. Dr. Goldwaser, who also works with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, recommends yoga and plyometrics (“explosive” movements improving muscle speed and power) because it helps tremendously with flexibility and strength. We also recommend abdominal “plank” exercises, which involve maintaining a position similar to a push-up for the maximum possible time.
Can equipment help you avoid injury?
Yes. The most important piece of equipment you can bring with you skiing or snowboarding is a helmet. Unfortunately, we have seen traumatic brain injuries from people going at a high speed and hitting someone or something. We have a saying in orthopedics which is, “We can fix broken bones, but we can’t fix scrambled brains.”
I also advise people to make sure their equipment is up-to-date, properly set up, and well-tuned. For example, make sure the edges of your skis and snowboard are properly sharpened, which prevents them from sliding on icy slopes. Ski bindings must be properly calibrated so skis come off safely during a fall, saving your knees and other joints. Borrowing a friend’s piece of gear could save some money, but get you into trouble because the size of the skis or snowboard may not be right. For example, if you have skis that are way too long or too short, too stiff, or too soft, you may have difficulty safely maneuvering them, which puts you — and the people around you — at risk of a fall or injury.
What are some common injuries for skiers and snowboarders?
Injuries around the knee are common, and they are often equipment-related. Skiers need to have the right-sized boots. One of the most important things to keep in mind is how your boots connect to your skis so that if you do fall, your ski equipment comes off properly and safely. If someone falls and the ski doesn’t come off, their leg may twist, potentially resulting in a variety of injuries. These include a meniscal tear, ligament contusion or ligament tear, or even a fracture. For snowboarders, common injuries involve the wrist, elbow, or ankle.
Another, more serious, injury that could occur is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. This is more common in aggressive skiers who go down a hill while maneuvering around a series of bumps or moguls, or speed down the slopes.