Although the forecasts are not yet predicting snow, skiers and snowboarders would be wise to take up a targeted conditioning program now to avoid the aches and injuries that often plague them on the slopes. Winter activities tend to tax muscles and muscle groups that are used very little during the rest of the year. As a result, even the best athletes can suffer when taking on the extreme stresses of downhill sports.
Orthopedic surgeon Steven Hindman, MD of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialsts (ONS) in Greenwich and Stamford, CT, suggests that preseason conditioning exercises can help avert pain and the most feared knee injury of all – a season-ending tear to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) .
“Ideally, people should start a conditioning program two to three months before they get near the mountain,” said Dr. Hindman. “But it’s never to late to benefit from a preventive exercise routine.” Too often, he noted, people go from their car to the ski lift without a single stretch. Such lack of preparation greatly increases the risk of injury.
One of four ligaments that provide stability to the knee, the ACL can tear when there is a sudden strain, abrupt change of direction, or twisting of the knee joint while the feet remain in a single direction. Skiers are at greatest risk to strain the ACL to the point of tearing when they try to recover from a fall with their body weight in back of the skis, if they don’t land a jump correctly or if improperly set ski bindings don’t release during a a critical moment. ACL tears usually require surgery and a lengthy recuperation to repair.
Since the major leg muscles work the hardest when skiing and snowboarding, exercises should focus on strengthening thighs, hamstrings, calves and hips. Workouts that incorporate these muscle groups will help maintain good balance, stabilize the knee during stress situations and build endurance for a full day on the mountain. Adding practices such as yoga and Pilates will also develop strength and balance while improving the body’s flexibility and core fitness.
As important as conditioning is off the slopes, knowing your body’s limits is key on the slopes. Studies show that the majority of injuries happen at the end of the day with the combination of fatigue, flat light and deteriorating snow conditions. “When you get tired, stop,” said Dr. Hindman.