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Fit for Sport 1: Skiing

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Fit for Sport 1: Skiing

While many of us dread the cold short days of winter, an increasing number of the population from seven to seventy greet this season with excitement and anticipation. This is the time to book your flights, wax your skis or snowboard, check out the new gear and head to the mountains. Mark Adshead, Managing Director of Physio2go St. Albans looks at some of the changes and challenges new technology has brought to those of us hitting the slopes…. at any age!
If you spend your working week at a desk, on the motorway, or even at 30,000 feet, then you will be well aware of the physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors. The feeling of freedom and anticipation when you’ve reached the top of a mountain is second to none. Skiing and snowboarding has the cardiovascular benefits of exercise conducted at altitude and the psychological and postural benefits of getting out of that chair and away from the desk. Many patients who attend my clinic prior to their holiday are worried that their niggling back pain will prevent them enjoying the slopes; they are delighted to find that a week on (or off) piste replaces their back pain with the ‘exquisite’ ache of a week’s skiing.

Potential ‘impact’ of new technology

The last decade has brought with it tremendous advances in design and materials technology in skis & snowboards. The radical side cut of snowboards, which allows easier and more controlled carving of turns, has been adapted by equipment manufacturers to the design of skis. This has given the novice skier more control sooner and allowed him to advance more quickly. Fifteen years ago it was only the most advanced skiers who would attempt to ski the ‘holy grail’ of off piste; now skiers with as little as 5 weeks experience are hiring wide/fat boy skis and heading off in search of ungroomed powder.

New technologies: common injuries

Once upon a time it was normal through the winter and spring to see large numbers of skiers who had suffered varying degrees of lower limb injuries, mainly to the knees. These twisting injuries were often seen in beginners whose skis did not release from the bindings. In many cases the anxious beginner had not built up sufficient momentum to create enough force to release the bindings or the bindings were not adjusted correctly on a hired set of skis. Binding technology has improved, resulting in far fewer instances of the bindings failing to release even at slow speeds. Skis are now shorter and wider at the front and back, providing a greater feeling of stability and easier ‘edge control’. This combined effect leads to more confidence when turning, avoiding obstacles (including other skiers) and stopping. The new skier now progresses more quickly, is more willing to increase his speed, possibly more confident than competent! Snowboarding’s increasing popularity…remember, no poles…. also delivers a new pattern of injuries!
Insurance company data reports increasing numbers of injuries to the upper body and far fewer than previously to the lower limbs, with more injuries caused by people being ‘thrown’ from their skis. Easier edge control and increased speed mean that if you do ‘catch an edge’ there is less time to regain control and you will be turned more sharply into a fall. More speed means that the momentum is sufficient for the bindings to release, but the skier is thrown more forcefully onto shoulders and wrists. Injuries that are becoming more common include fractured or dislocated shoulders, fractured or sprained wrists, fingers and thumbs.
Equipment can be of some assistance in avoiding or reducing injury. New snowboarders should consider specially designed gloves, now available with protective wrist splints built in, to help prevent bad sprains and fractures. More people are wearing protective helmets, with many ski resorts in Europe and North America making them mandatory for children under 16.

Fit for the snow

Even the fit individual should undertake specific training to prepare for the slopes. Remember, you are likely to be physically active in an unnatural environment for at least 5 hours a day over a number of days. Most trainers recommend core stability training, strength and balance work, stamina and flexibility training as part of their “skifit” programme. You will need to concentrate on the following:
• Flexibility — stretching, Pilates, yoga
• Core stability training — Pilates, Swiss fit ball work
• Strength — lower limb weights machine, leg extensions, hamstring knee curls, squats
• Stamina — static cycle, cross trainer, stepper
• Balance and co-ordination — wobble board; “one-legged “ balance exercises (with instructor!)
It is also important to remember that by its very nature winter sports take place in the mountains at altitude and as a result it is very easy to become dehydrated; avoid too much alcohol, tea or coffee as they can all exacerbate dehydration. As with any stamina sport, ensure adequate nutrition intake. Our physiotherapists at Physio2go can work with you to assess your balance, strength and mobility. If you have had a previous injury we can advise you on specific exercises and the potential need for joint support as part of your personal preparation.

The last run… and the last word

The excitement and exhilaration of challenging your spirit and stamina on snow will be something you will look forward to every year. There are many sports, which have more injuries “per activity hour”, than skiing or snowboarding; however, the type of injury that can occur can have an enormous impact on your well being for months after your return.
Prepare yourself physically for your ski trip, ensure that your equipment is safe and appropriate for your level of skill, be aware of your surroundings and use common sense when on the slopes. More injuries occur when the mind and body are fatigued, have “the last run of the day” one run sooner than you think necessary; find out just how good après-ski can be.

For further information please contact:
Physio2go Ltd.
York Lodge,
St. Peters St,
St. Albans,
AL 1 3HD
Telephone: 01727 850925

Email: info@physio2go.co.uk