Prepping Knees for an Injury Free Ski Season

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Top Sports Medicine Expert Dr. Joel Buchalter with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group offers tips for avoiding ski injury.

Whether you’re a first-timer or an expert, if you ski, you’re going to fall. And while the majority of spills are forgettable, a hard landing can leave you laid up for months, or even longer. “If the knees are involved, a seemingly minor fall can do serious damage,” says Joel Buchalter, M.D. with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine. “Because of the complexity of the knee joint and the tremendous forces involved in a fall, we encourage our skiing patients to prepare their knees for an injury free ski season,” adds Dr. Buchalter.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 100,000 skiing-related injuries every year. Falls are the biggest culprit, accounting for about 75% of all skiing accidents. Today’s skis are shorter and shapelier than their predecessors and bindings, which are designed to release before your leg snaps, make skiing safer, at least as far as broken bones are concerned. But it’s still risky. By far the most common injuries in skiers are those to the knee, particularly tears to the medial and anterior cruciate ligaments—the MCL and ACL—and the meniscus, a piece of cartilage that attaches to the ligaments in the knee.

Tips for Avoiding Injury
The best way to protect your knees is to do your homework before you hit the lifts, says Dr. Buchalter.

  • Make sure you’ve got the right equipment and that it’s in good shape with your skis tuned and sharpened and your bindings adjusted properly.
  • Know what you’re doing, and don’t push your limits too far. Lots of injuries occur when skiers overestimate their abilities and head down a hill that’s too challenging or attempt a jump or other trick they’re quite ready to try.
  • Get your body in shape well before the snow falls. The best preseason conditioning program will include flexibility, cardiovascular, and strength training.
  • Make certain before you hit the slopes to stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps to ensure your knees and hips are up to the stresses and occasional impacts of skiing.
  • Build your cardiovascular fitness with cycling, running, or another “aerobic” activity to be sure you’re ready to ski as long and as hard as you like without losing your form, which makes a fall, and an injury, more likely.
  • Get your skiing-specific muscles strong by doing plenty of lunges, squats, and stair-climbing.

Knee Injuries, Decoded
Among skiing’s knee injuries, those to the MCL are the most common, particularly among beginners who fall in a “snowplow” position. That impact stresses the medial (innermost) portion of the joint, stretching or tearing the MCL.

An ACL injury can occur when a skier hyperextends a knee—he or she falls backwards with one leg stretched out in front—or “catches an edge,” in which case the tip of the ski suddenly twists inward. ACL injuries can also occur when a skier collides with an obstacle or another skier. The ACL injury is the second most common injury to the knee for skiers with more than 20,000 skiers in the United States sustain one each year. ACL ski injuries are usually more serious than an MCL injury.

Another common injury is a tear of the meniscus, which is the tough, rubbery piece of cartilage that connects the ligaments between the femur (thigh) and tibia and fibula (the bones in the lower leg). The meniscus acts like a shock absorber, and is particularly vulnerable in skiers because of the sharp turns and changes in weight distribution that they do. Skiers can also tear the meniscus by improperly landing a jump.

Dr. Buchalter adds that “it’s not a big surprise that most injuries occur at the end of the day, when skiers are tired. The right conditioning will keep you from tiring out and getting hurt before you’re done with your last run.”

Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group, founded in 1988, is one of the most comprehensive and specialized practices in the region. Highly trained physicians specialize in diagnosing and treating all orthopaedic, rheumatological, and pain management problems in adults and children. All surgeons are board certified and experienced, having completed rigorous training at the finest medical institutions in the country. The staff includes fifteen physicians, five physicians' assistants, three physical therapists and a supporting staff of over 100. The group's physicians perform all types of arthroscopic surgery, ACL reconstruction, minimally invasive joint replacement, computer navigation, revision joint replacement, sports care, spine surgery, fracture care, hand, ankle, and foot surgery. State-of-the-art facilities include digital radiology, MRI and ultrasound.

Joel S. Buchalter, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., F.A.C.S., a founding partner of Somers Orthopaedic, has been in practice since 1988. He received board certification in Orthopaedic Surgery in 1990. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Buchalter graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a bachelors of science in biomedical engineering, earned his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine, and completed his internship in general surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center and his residency in orthopaedic surgery at the Hospital for Joint Diseases. Dr. Buchalter is a clinical assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the New York University School of Medicine/Hospital for Joint Disease Orthopaedic Institute. He is also co-director of the Orthopaedic Institute at Putnam Hospital Center. He is on staff at Northern Westchester Hospital Center in Mount Kisco, the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City, and Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel where he has served as chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery.


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