Common Winter Sports Injuries
There’s nothing like flying down a snow-covered mountainside with skis or a snowboard strapped to your feet.
But with great powder days come potential perils. The high-velocity falls, and awkward landings accompanying these activities can lead to painful injuries for even seasoned athletes. By the end of this article, you’ll know the most common winter sports injuries to help you prevent and promptly treat injuries for safer seasons ahead.
Getting in shape with a ski assessment
If you’re preparing for an upcoming ski trip or recovering from winter sports injuries, specialised ski assessments can help evaluate fitness.
These sessions utilise the Skier’s Edge machine to replicate the muscle dynamics in skiing accurately.
Our physiotherapists will assess your strength, balance, and mobility, providing customised conditioning programmes to elevate performance and reduce winter sports injury risks before hitting the slopes.
You can train on the Skier’s Edge machine to increase stamina across long distances while optimising form and technique for tighter, smoother turns.
Our experience is that the Skier’s Edge machine can reduce the chances of injuries on the slopes due to poor form and rustiness.
Personal training pre or post-season can also help with mobility, flexibility, and strength before skiing or after months of winter sports strain while forming part of your injury rehabilitation, should you have any nagging injuries impacting your form.
Common winter sports injuries
While most winter sports injuries are relatively minor, more severe injuries like fractures and knee ligament damage can cut a holiday short. Fractures from high-impact falls and back pain from overuse are risks in these high-velocity sports. The good news is that just being aware of the dangers will help you prevent them:
Sprains and muscle strains
Sudden falls and hard impacts from winter sports put enormous strain on tendons and ligaments, often resulting in sprains and muscle strains in the knees, shoulders, ankles, and wrists. Early symptoms signalling these injuries include sudden pain, joint swelling, localised tenderness, and reduced mobility around the affected area.
While initial home treatment with rest, ice, compression, and elevation can provide some relief, seeing a physiotherapist is recommended for proper diagnosis and effective treatment. We may use joint mobilisation techniques to restore normal, pain-free motion to the joint gently. Manual soft tissue massage releases tight, strained muscles surrounding the injury, and stretching helps improve overall flexibility and range of motion.
The high speeds of winter sports make bone fractures a common injury risk. Symptoms include severe pain, swelling, bruising, deformity, and inability to bear weight.
Falling backwards while wearing constricting ski boots can cause fractures of the tibia bone along the shin. Hand and arm fractures frequently occur when breaking sudden falls on icy hard-pack or in terrain parks.
Post-fracture rehabilitation involves realigning broken bones, followed by several weeks in a cast. Your doctor will provide crutches, braces, or slings to stabilise fractures during initial healing. Once casts come off, joint mobilisation restores flexibility after long periods of immobilisation while therapeutic ultrasound speeds healing.
Gradual strength training rebuilds surrounding muscles weakened by disuse. Weight-bearing exercises progress gently to avoid re-fracture.
Lower back pain
Skiing and snowboarding demand core strength and stamina to resist forces generated across uneven terrain.
Over a long day on the slopes, your lower back muscles can tire, strain, and spasm. Sudden falls can also trigger painful muscle spasms along the spine.
Your physiotherapist will likely use sports massage, trigger point therapy for spasms, and heat packs to relieve back pain. They’ll also assess your hip and spinal mobility to identify restricted joints contributing to strains.
Core stabilisation exercises can also strengthen back and abdominal muscles over time for greater endurance while enhancing balance skills.
Maintaining an upright posture reduces strain when pushing long distances. Be sure to properly warm up your back muscles before hitting the slopes, and don’t overdo the length of your runs – it’s better to finish early than not at all!
Heel and foot pain
Ski and snowboard boots rigidly clamp the feet in place for hours during long days ripping down the mountain. The inability to shift or adequately stretch the firm, unforgiving shells combined with hard-packed snow cause constant vibrational pounding on the feet.
As muscles tire, arches strain and joints compress. Symptoms include pain under the heel, arch, or ball of the foot, plus numbness, swelling and bruising.
Your physiotherapist will determine the causes, including plantar fasciitis, ankle impingement, joint restrictions, or muscular imbalance.
Treatment combines joint mobilisation, soft tissue techniques, custom orthotics, taping, protective padding, plus exercises to enhance flexibility and strength.
Properly fitted equipment makes a big difference. Seek out well-trained boot fitters and experiment with snowboarding boot lacing styles, canting and footbeds. Maintain boots carefully each season and replace old pairs.
Skiing and snowboarding demand tremendous eccentric strength, with bending at the hips and knees to initiate turns. Constant eccentric strain impacts the hamstring muscles along the rear thigh, leading to delayed onset muscle soreness – symptoms include pain, weakness in hip extension, plus reduced shock absorption.
Your physiotherapist can advise regarding massage, muscle stimulation, heat packs, plus eccentric exercises to aid recovery. Maintaining muscle flexibility reduces future strain.
Be sure to incorporate plenty of hamstring stretches after long days zipping through moguls or gliding on flat runs. Strengthening the entire posterior chain enhances stability. Drink plenty of fluids, get enough protein and utilise foam rolling for muscle-tissue release.
Knee injuries make up about a third of all skiing and snowboarding injuries. The abrupt twists and high-impact landings strain ligaments and tendons around this vulnerable joint. Unfortunately, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are common, and bad falls can also damage the medial collateral ligament (MCL) along the inner knee, or meniscal tears leading to painful locking or catching of the knee when you move it.
ACL injuries are the most common and can be complete or partial. Partial tears are often treated without surgery with time, painkillers, and physiotherapy. Complete tears frequently require surgery and have the longest recovery time by far.
Early physiotherapy typically involves gentle range of motion exercises to restore flexibility to the joint, progressive strength training to rebuild the muscles surrounding the knee, massage for muscles surrounding the knee, proprioception drills and electrical stimulation.
Preparation is essential
The sudden twists and uncontrolled landings with skiing, snowboarding and other mountain sports make some injuries unavoidable.
However, while not every wipeout is preventable, you can still do things to help minimise the risk of injury out on the slopes and in snow parks.
Ensuring proper fitness before the holiday starts on the Skier’s Edge machine, choosing terrain appropriate for your ability level, taking regular breaks, and stopping at the first sign of pain or fatigue can all help reduce the chances of injury.
Furthermore, understanding common risks and promptly treating any damage that does occur aids a safe return to the slopes in the following seasons. Contact us to discuss injury prevention strategies with a trained specialist.