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common skiing knee injuries

Avoid the Most Common Skiing Knee Injuries When Hitting the Slopes

It’s time to hit the slopes! Crested Butte has gotten 112 inches of snow in January alone, and most of Summit county has at least a 60-inch base. But with all that fresh powder, it’s easy to get bogged down in a turn or just plain worn out. Common skiing knee injuries happen when people overdo it or get into terrain that is beyond their ability.

But the good news is that many knee injuries are not emergent – meaning that treatment can start at home, and you can save yourself and expensive trip to the ER or urgent care – as long as you see an orthopedist within 24 hours. Read on to learn about three of the most common skiing knee injuries, how to avoid and treat them.

  1. Knee Sprains – Kneesprains account for about 30 percent of all skiing injuries and are becoming more common than ever. Strains occur when one or more ligaments is stretched or torn. Skiing can naturally create circumstances where your knee is twisted forced out of its normal position. If you have pain or swelling but still have range of motion and some stability, you may have a knee sprain.

Sprains require RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, and sometimes a trip to your orthopedic specialist. Your doctor will evaluate your knee to confirm it’s indeed a sprain and recommend the right treatment maximize the healing process. But be careful not to ice too long and avoid putting ice directly on your skin. A good rule of thumb is twenty minutes on, forty minutes off.  Too much can cause nerve damage and frost bite.

  1. Torn MCL – More severe than a sprain, a medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear is actually the most common skiing knee injury. The reason for this is twofold: first, beginner and intermediate skiers far outnumber advanced skiers and MCL tears are most likely to occur in less-skilled skiers. Second, the MCL becomes strained or torn when the knees are turned in, which is common when you go into a snowplow (or “pizza,” as many kids call it) position.

The symptoms of an MCL tear are often similar to that of a sprain, so it’s important to see an expert to ensure you are correctly diagnosed.  Some MCL patients also experience a catching or locking feeling, or recognized marked instability as well.

If you do manage to tear your MCL, the good news is that most MCL tears – can often be treated without surgery. Treatment typically includes the RICE formula, as well as physical therapy to maintain range of motion and build strength  or use of a protective brace as you get back into physical activity.

  1. A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is also one of the top most common skiing knee injuries. ACL tears are often considered more severe because they often occur in conjunction with damage to another part of the knee. An ACL tear is often caused by a sudden stop or change in direction (think crowds on the slopes, moguls, catching an edge, or navigating an unexpected turn).

Treatment usually involves surgery, but today’s technology is much less invasive than it was years ago, and most patients begin physical therapy days after surgery. A good orthopedic surgeon can help patients get back to being active quickly with minimally invasive techniques and a comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

A fresh powder day is certainly tempting, but you don’t want it to be your last of the season! You can minimize your chances of all these common skiing knee injuries by remembering a few key points:

  • Always within your ability level, and ensure that you keep yourself balanced as you go downhill. Keeping your weight forward (but not too far forward) with your hips and knees bent will help you maintain a balanced position. Leaning back forces your feet forward in your boots (ouch) and ensures you’ll end up on your rear end more often than you’d like.
  • Take a break when you need to. It’s easy to get overly excited when there’s such great snow, but remember if this is your first time up for the season (or the decade), take it slow! Skiing is a workout, and if you haven’t been doing many (or any) leg workouts, even a few runs can take their toll quickly. Don’t overdo it.
  • Get in ski shape. If you have time to start conditioning before you go, do it! Even if just a few weeks of leg and core exercises will make a different and help to minimize your chance of common skiing knee injuries significantly.

Even taking all the precautions, accidents do happen, and these common skiing knee injuries, are just that – common. If you are reading this because you think you may have hurt your knee – we can help!

You know your body best, so never avoid emergency treatment if you think you need it, but many people are able to apply ice, elevate the knee, and use crutches to get around until their appointment. We can usually see you within 24 hours.

Schedule an appointment today with one of our orthopedic knee specialists to get back on your feet and back on the slopes!