How to prevent ski injuries: tips from an orthopedic surgeon

Ski season is here, and it’s time to think about how we can avoid injuries on the slopes. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I most often see knee injuries, but also plenty of wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries as well.

Hopefully, you’ve done some pre-season conditioning — but if not, go ahead and start now! Obviously, avoid a heavy workout the day before your first ski day, but if you have time to become more regularly active with your cardio, strength and flexibility routine, get started with that. It’s important to increase intensity, duration, and weight slowly to avoid injury. Don’t let your injury avoidance plan injure you! Always talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program.

Morning warm-up

Before you start down the mountain, you will want to make sure all your muscles are properly warmed up to avoid injury. The glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core are great stabilizing muscles that protect the rest of your body from injury. Make sure these are limber.

You will also want to make sure that your joints are warm and elastic as well. Once these areas of the body have good blood flow, get in a nice stretch. Follow this quick warm-up below (remember to start slow and increase the intensity as you feel your muscles begin to wake up):

  • 20 squats
  • 20 forward to backward lunge on each leg
  • 20 windmills alternating sides
  • 20 butt kickers
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • Stretch your quads, calves, and hamstrings along with the triceps, shoulders, and core

Mid-day safety

So you’ve had a great morning on the slopes and have kept it accident-free. Good for you! You deserve a nice lunch break. After you’ve taken the break, your muscles have gotten stiff again and might be stiff from the morning of skiing.

You don’t want to waste this great day by forgetting to protect your joints and muscles mid-day. Warm your muscles and limber your joints before you return to the slopes by repeating the morning warm-up and paying extra attention stretching any muscles that feel tighter than normal.

On the slope safety

Rules are there for a reason, and that reason is to protect you and others on the mountain. Every mountain has a rules board posted in plain sight. Read these and follow them to avoid any dangerous situations.

Also, ski patrol is out on the mountain for your protection. Starting to see a pattern? Skiing involves risk but you can minimize this risk by following common sense rules, and even then you can still be injured.

There are seven safety rules that are universal on all ski mountains. They are called “Your Responsibility Code.”

  1. Always stay in control.
  2. People ahead of you have the right of way.
  3. Stop in a safe place for you and others.
  4. Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.
  5. Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
  6. Observe signs and warnings and keep off closed trails.
  7. Know how to use the lifts safely.

Don’t forget at the end of the ski season, to think about your off-season conditioning as well. While it’s fantastic to stay active, it’s a good idea 4 to 6 weeks before the next ski season to start preparing with an agility, core and leg program to get you prepared for the season.

Nancy Yen Shipley is an orthopedic surgeon and can be reached at her self-titled site, NancyMD and on Twitter @_nancymd and Instagram @_nancymd.

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