As winter increases its grip on many parts of the country, dumping that powdery white snow on slopes beloved by skiers of all ages, it’s important to understand the most common skiing injuries, how to prevent them, and the best approach for treatment when they inevitably occur.
Even the best of snow skiers know hitting the slopes is a high-risk proposition when it comes to developing a ski injury. One awkward twist, a caught edge, or the unseen mountain hazard that appears seemingly out of nowhere can ruin any person’s season.
Being mentally prepared and aware of the most common ski injuries can help to avoid them from happening.
Taking all the necessary precautions to prevent snow skiing injuries and knowing how to treat any banged-up body parts for the fastest healing may just help skiers get the most of out their ski season.
Here are 5 Common Snow Skiing Injuries
The problem with common injuries that come from the sport of skiing is that, they’re just that: common.
From strains and sprains to broken bones, as well as the more serious head injuries that can result from collisions with other skiers, mountain hazards, or just a bad fall, the dangers of snow skiing are well known.
1. Wrist or Ankle Injury Skiing
Ankle sprains are common injuries among skiers, and for good measure, so are wrist sprains. For beginners, the issue very often occurs from not knowing how to properly slow down and stop.
A sudden, awkward pivot in an effort to stop or slow down can easily roll the ankle or send a skier to the ground where they try to brace the impact by putting their hands forward.
Even though ski boots often provide good support and stability, it’s not always enough for beginners who don’t have ankles conditioned for skiing. And gloves don’t provide any support for the wrists.
In either case, the impact to the wrist or knee joint can leave the ligaments, tendons, muscles and other soft tissue inflamed, bruised and painful when moved or touched.
2. Knee Injuries From Skiing
Often more serious than a sprain, some knee injuries can be downright debilitating. Tears in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are top candidates for most common snow skiing injuries.
With ACL tears, an athlete may hear a pop in the knee and then experience painful inflammation that leads to a poor range of motion and soreness in the knee.
MCL tears are usually the result of impact to the outside of the knee that drives the joint inward. This usually leads to pain, swelling, instability, and weakness on the inside of the knee.
3. Shoulder Skiing Injuries
Dislocated shoulders and other shoulder injuries usually rank high among the most common ski injuries. Here, the head of the upper arm bone, the humerus, pops out of the shoulder socket as a result of impact from collision or a fall.
This type of injury can be incredibly painful. Unfortunately, a dislocated shoulder, even after healing, is more prone to dislocation because the joint has been weakened.
Some shoulder injuries can lead to others like Shoulder Tendonitis after a fracture or dislocation.
4. Skier’s Thumb
A Skier’s Thumb injury occurs when the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which runs from the hand to the inside of the elbow, comes under undo stress or becomes torn.
It’s often the result of a skier trying to catch or slow their fall with the ski pole still in their hand. When the thumb is severely bent sideways or backwards, it can lead to a strain or outright rupture of the UCL, which many people call Skier’s Thumb.
5. Head Injury
It should go without saying that head injuries are one of the most serious risks in snow skiing. Anyone on the slopes, from a beginner to the most experienced skier can suffer an unexpected head injury.
Head injuries from skiing can range from mild bumps and cuts, to severe concussions or even death from excessive brain trauma.
Like with other common ski injuries, it’s important to take as many preventative measures as possible before, during, and after activity on the slopes.
Ways to Prevent Skiing Injuries
Like any high-risk sport, one of the most important ways to prevent skiing injuries begins with proper gear. From ski boots and skis that are fitted properly to a helmet that’s safely secured over the head for as much protection as possible, every piece of gear matters.
While so many people enjoy snow skiing recreationally, it’s still important to warm the body up before going down more intense runs.
In case anyone may be confused, “warming up” in this instance refers to starting slowly to allow the body to adjust to the slopes and conditions, instead of warming up in the lodge by the fire.
Even expert skiers will take time doing easier runs, allowing the body, the joints and all the soft-tissue to warm up and become more flexible before the demands on the body become greater.
Finally, and this applies to even novice and beginning skiers, staying healthy in the offseason, such as taking time for strength training, as well as cardio, is key to preventing injuries.
However, even if with a top-notch preventative game, injuries do occur and knowing the best treatment approaches can often lessen the severity and downtime associated with recovery.
Treatment Methods for Common Skiing Injuries
Treatment approaches for a snow skiing injury will vary depending on the type and severity of the issue.
For example, some severe knee injuries from skiing may require surgery, whereas an ankle, wrist, or knee sprain may simply need time and rest for recovery. It’s also important not to ignore any warning signs.
In cases of strained or ruptured ligaments and tendons, pain often dissipates with activity, though a skier may be unwittingly setting himself or herself up for even more downtime by not addressing the issue with a physician before pain and inflammation make activity difficult.
The key is to pay attention to the body and address any problems as soon as possible.
Some of the most common treatment methods for ski injuries include the following:
1. The RICE Method
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This conservative approach is effective for minor strains, tears, or some tendonitis issues. This is especially critical in the first 72 hours of an injury.
Rest gives the injured area time to heal, while ice can help reduce inflammation and pain caused by the injury.
A compression bandage or wrap will support the joint and reduce movement. If possible, elevate the injured area above the heart to reduce swelling.
2. Taping and Strapping
Proper taping and strapping can help support areas like the wrist or knee to reduce stress on muscles and other soft-tissue by providing extra tension.
Some skiers will preemptively tape areas prone to injury in an effort to avoid worsening any problematic joints. This can also help skiers with a minor strain to enjoy a day on the slopes or compete in an event.
3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen, which can help lessen injury related pain and will aid in decreasing inflammation.
Depending on the injury, some skiers may require a steroid or cortisone injection to reduce inflammation and pain that is more serious.
4. EPAT / Shockwave Therapy
EPAT Therapy, also referred to as Shockwave Therapy, is a painless, noninvasive approach for speeding up the healing process. This treatment method is formally known as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy or simply ESWT treatment.
During this form of treatment, a Shockwave Therapy Machine produces impulse pressure waves that are directed deep into muscles and tissue, creating more blood flow and reducing inflammation to improve healing.
There is no scaring or risk of infection, like with surgery, and EPAT / Shockwave Therapy sessions can sometimes be administered while a person continues to train and ski without suffering from performance issues.
5. Physical Therapy
For many types of injuries, even minor ones, physical therapy is often a good way to strengthen the injured area during recovery, as well as learn proper form and techniques to avoid further injury.
A combination of physical therapy and other treatment modalities like Shockwave Therapy therapy can help decrease injury-related downtime and get a skier back on the slopes faster.
Typically, surgery is a last resort for healing or repairing many skiing injuries after all of the more conservative treatment approaches have failed to work. Invasive fixes are usually limited to serious ACL or MCL tears in the knee that need reconstruction, or the severe build-up of scar tissue that requires breaking up.
Unfortunately, surgery comes with longer recovery times and there are always inherent risks associated with it. A thorough discussion with a physician is suggested to make sure it is the best option.
Most people don’t think about a ski injury until it occurs. Some people even continue skiing after they become injured to avoid losing time on the mountain or the money they paid for a lift ticket.
Knowing how to prevent some of the most common snow skiing injuries before getting on the lift can help avoid them.
If a ski injury does happen, some of the treatment methods outlined here may help skiers return to the slopes quicker instead of only spending time in the ski lodge.