After 15 years in NYC, moving back to New England reacquainted me with one of my favorite winter activities, alpine skiing. Like getting back on a bicycle, I quickly picked up where I left off as a twenty-something-year-old skier. Only now, much older and wiser, I have fear… a lot of fear.

Over the past 25 years as a PT, I’ve been up close and personal to countless knee joints that succumbed to the perils of the icy slopes of the east coast. First aid stations all over our great state are full of these injuries every winter. The vast majority of these injuries involve the ligaments keeping the knee joint together, namely the ACL, MCL, and less commonly the PCL. However, its not just the fast turning, mogul bouncing, Tuckerman’s regulars that get hurt. Often times, it’s the novice skiers who are at risk.

One of the most dangerous maneuvers on skis is the snowplow. This positioning of the skis places excessive force on the ligamentous structures of the knee and facilitates more knee extension. Knees should NEVER straighten with a loss of balance or fall. When combined with leaning too far back, one may as well have the surgeon on speed dial, because one false move, and the ACL is blown.

So what can be done to help mitigate these risks and have fun on the slopes?

First, hit the gym about 6 weeks before your first ski trip and work the quads with resistance training. The leg press, squats, and knee extension machine are all great ways to fire up the quadriceps in the front of the thigh and allow for better control of the knee joint during skiing. The difference in a skier’s performance on the slopes is often remarkable.

Second, be sure your bindings are correctly adjusted by a professional and rechecked throughout the season for appropriate rear release.

Third, if you do fall down, stay down. Never attempt to get back on your feet until you have come to a complete stop or risk tangling or twisting your knees due to the torque from the ski.

Finally, research suggests that warming up the body temperature with light exercise before skiing may prevent injuries and improve performance. Before getting on the lift, spend 10 minutes doing squats, lunges, and straight leg raises before clicking into your skis. If a skier has sustained a ligament injury in the past, research in multiple studies shows that a functional brace will significantly reduce the incidence and severity of re-injury.

For more information on appropriate exercise protocols, bracing, or rehabilitation following any knee injury, call Seacoast Body Balance, LLC.


- Melissa, PT