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Do you need to be fit to ski?

Most skiers recognise the need for good preparation before embarking on a week or two in the great outdoors. Whether you actually get round to it is another matter. Do not assume you are fit for skiing because you play another sport. Skiing is different. You do not have to be super fit to ski, but you should prepare yourself.


What types of exercises are best?

The air is thinner at higher altitudes which mean that your heart and lungs need to work harder to keep you going. A 30 minute workout 2 or 3 times a week for at least two moths is the minimum that is required before going. Start with general fitness training like walking, cycling, swimming or running for endurance and cardiovascular fitness. You should also do strengthening exercises, especially for your legs and lower back. The most ideal exercises are an aerobic exercise that improves the strength and stamina in the legs, such as cycling, step machines or even roller blading.


When performing specific strengthening exercises for legs it is important to start with high repetition exercises with a relatively light weight for example 3 sets with 20 repetitions. Repetitions develop strength and endurance in your leg muscles, not just maximal strength.


The design and maintenance of correct equipment is vital. Your ski boots should be fit well allowing the toes to move freely, but have a snug fit for a heel. This should be achieved without having to over tighten the ski-boots. Skis and poles should be selected of the correct length and type according to your degree of competence, usually the ski length should equal your height for an intermediate skier.


The ski bindings must be correctly measured. If you are a beginner you will ski more slowly which means that your ski bindings can be put at a lighter setting than normal for your weight, as the pressure on the ski is less. So if you fall, your skis will detach easily. This precaution will save necessary slow twisting injuries to the knees.


When do most injuries occur?

Most injuries happen during the first or last run of the day, so it is important to warm up thoroughly and stretch the muscles before skiing, and to stop when you are tired. Take a break but not for long enough to cool down, and try to keep warm. Many injuries happen on the third afternoon of skiing because it is when fatigue really sets in. the accidents tend to occur on blue and red pistes in good conditions.


After a first day’s hard skiing, muscles start to stiffen and the high altitude can cause dehydration, the effect of which can be compounded by heavy duty après ski and insufficient water intake. On a normal day we lose 1.5 - 2 litres of fluid and during exercise this can easily double, treble or quadruple. Beer, VIN chaud, coffee, tea and fizzy drinks don’t count as fluid intake, they all add to dehydration. So, take it easy on the first few days and take a long lunch finishing early on the third day. Combine this with a good preparation and stretching before and alter skiing every day during your skiing week and you should be able to protect yourself from injury!


What are the most common injuries?

Skiing injuries can be classified as either traumatic or overuse injuries.


Traumatic injuries occur when structures like bones, ligaments and muscles are damaged due to falls. Skiing above your capability, going too fast and taking risks make you vulnerable to this type of injury. A novice skier is more likely to be injured than an expert.


Knee injuries are the most common traumatic injury for skiers. Therefore the stronger your thighs are the more protected your knees will be. One of the most common injuries to hand is "skier’s thumb" which is caused by the ski pole forcing the thumb joint outwards and backwards when bracing a fall, spraining one of the ligaments. This can be prevented in two ways, try not to cushion your fall with your hands and do not put your hand through the strap of the pole.


Overuse injuries occur due to gradually over stressing and injuring the tendons, muscles and ligaments. They can be just as painful as the more acute traumatic injuries and they tend to last considerably longer.


The most commonly injured tendons in skiers are the thighs, knee caps and shins. Overuse injuries can also affect the elbow, ankle, foot, lower back, shoulder and neck.


An overuse injury can easily start during preparation exercises as build up to your ski holiday, so it is important not to over do any exercising. Allow enough time for rest, healing and repair to occur if you do overstress, and vary the exercises that you are performing.


Contributing factors to overuse injuries are:
  • Poorly prepared muscles (tight or weak muscles)
  • Inflexible and stiff joints
  • Ill fitting ski boots
  • Faulty techniques
  • Incorrect clothing (must be warm and too tight).

It makes sense therefore to ensure that you train sensibly so that the joints are flexible, the muscles strong, the tendons stretch, and the equipment well chosen before starting to ski. Make sure that the pre-skiing exercises are low impact to avoid overuse injuries.


It can be quite useful to use supports for body parts where you have weakness. A support belt for the back can be a good way to prevent back injuries and to wear knee supports as a preventative measure has been proven to be effective for people with chronic knee problems.


Pain is a warning sign, so if you feel pain whilst skiing or after skiing don’t ignore it.


Treatment

Traumatic injuries such as fractures and torn ligaments obviously need specialist medical attention with immobilisation by plaster cast and possibly surgery.


With minor sprains/strains and overuse injuries, stop the activity and rest, preferably lying down with limbs slightly elevated. Apply an ice pack over the injured area for 10-20 minutes, repeat this 3 to 5 times a day for the first 24-48 hours, do not massage or apply heat. This is general advice and length of application of ice may vary in different areas e.g. a lower back injury-the ice pack can be applied for up to 30 minutes, but make sure a t-shirt or a thin cloth/towel is placed between the ice pack and skin to prevent frost bite.


If you return from a skiing holiday with an injury it is important that the proper diagnosis is made. Chiropractors do not only treat back and neck injuries, they also specialise in injuries to the limbs.When visiting a chiropractor, a full case history is taken to find out how the injury occurred and also what is aggravating or relieving pain. An in depth examination including x-rays would be taken to aid the diagnosis. If you experience any pain or discomfort prior to skiing, e.g. whilst trying to get fit, it is important to contact a chiropractor to evaluate the problem to minimise any further injury. Chiropractic treatment is aimed to optimise your performance and in that way minimise the likelihood of developing injuries.


Conclusion

Skiing doesn’t generally cause injuries and if you prepare yourself well you are less likely to have problems. It is important to remember it is a physical sport and if you follow this advice you are more likely to enjoy skiing, and there are few holidays that are more rewarding than or as exciting as a skiing problem. Good luck!!!