Ski season is here and while you might be preparing for your next alpine adventure, we’re preparing for the queue of skiing injuries we’re soon to be treating.
We’re also helping to prepare people for their time on the slopes. We have a dedicated ski preparation programme at WLP that can ensure your body is prepared for the twists and turns of skiing. But if you can’t make it here before you fly away, here are seven tips that could save you from limping back home.
No one attempts to run a marathon without months of training to prepare themselves, yet every year people strap into their ski boots and hurl themselves down the slopes despite not doing a second of skiing for twelve months or more.
Perhaps it’s because skiing falls under the umbrella of “holiday” that people underestimate its athleticism. Would people stop training for marathons if they were called “running holidays”? Either way, skiing places huge demands on your muscles and ligaments, especially the legs, so give yourself a few weeks at least to work on your fitness and flexibility.
High altitude activity puts more stress on your heart and lungs due to the reduction in oxygen, and without enough oxygen your muscles will quickly tire out. Even if you feel fully capable at ground level, you need to increase your base fitness if you’re going to be able to cope with the mountains.
Ideally, you should see us so we can assess your fitness, compare it to your goals and prescribe a ski preparation programme that will get you where you need to be. But, if you’re confident with your current fitness and just need a boost, try gradually increasing the intensity or duration of sessions on the treadmill, bike or cross trainer three times a week for a month or two.
If you read last week’s blog on knee injuries, you know that skiing is one of the biggest offenders. The knee joint isn’t designed to deal with intense twisting and turning, so you need to strengthen your legs so that your muscles can reduce the burden on your knee joint.
Lunges, squats and step ups are all easy exercises to increase your leg strength and flexibility, while balance exercises such as standing on one leg with your eyes closed help prepare your knees and ankles. These are included in our ski preparation programme, or you can try them yourself at home or in the gym.
Skis and ski poles can both act as dangerous levers if you fall, subjecting your joints to force far beyond their breaking point and twisting them into unnatural positions.
To protect my thumbs I don’t put my hands into the pole straps unless skiing in deep snow. I’d suggest you do the same. To help your knees make sure the bindings on your boots aren’t too tight so that the ski can easily release if you fall.
Post-lunch skiing is the peak time for accidents. After you’ve rested and eaten, your muscles don’t fire as quickly, making you less coordinated and more likely to make mistakes.
Tackle the more difficult slopes in the morning when you’re not as sluggish then go at a more relaxed pace after lunch. Even if you feel braver after a couple of drinks, resist the temptation to push yourself too hard or you’ll be waiting for the blood wagon. Which brings us on to…
I know it’s a holiday, but hold off on the alcohol until your boots are off for the day. Not only are your reflexes more sluggish after drinking, alcohol also dehydrates you, and if you’re dehydrated your muscles won’t function properly.
Confident you’re sober after one beer or glass of wine? Don’t forget that high altitudes magnify the effects of alcohol, so stick to water as long as you’re on the slopes.
Even if you do follow all the steps above, accidents happen when you mix humans, snow and gravity. If you take a tumble and feel any significant pain then don’t try and ski to the end of the run as this will invariably worsen any injury you may have sustained, or give you another injury you didn’t have. Be patient and wait for the help to come to you.
Once you’re safely back, remember: rest, ice, elevation and compression. When you’re back in the UK, come and see us if you’re still feeling pain. Even if you didn’t have any accidents, any pain, especially in the knee, could be caused by an underlying injury that needs to be treated.
Hopefully these tips help you enjoy an injury free ski trip!
Clinical Director, West London Physiotherapy