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6 Common Ski Injuries & How To Avoid Them

Winter is a magical time of year for skiers and snowboarders who relish the opportunity to carve up the slopes or zip through fresh powder. Unfortunately, both novice and experienced athletes alike are at risk of being injured by the sports they love. Here are a few of the most common injuries on the slopes and what you can do to keep having fun all season long.

What are the most common ski injuries?

It’s important to remember that athletes of all skill levels can be injured doing the sports they love, in this case, skiing! Here are 6 of the most common skiing injuries and what you can do to keep having fun all season long:

  1. Knee & ACL Injuries
  2. Wrist Injuries
  3. Back Injuries
  4. Tailbone Injuries
  5. Shoulder Injuries
  6. Skier’s Thumb

1. Knee & ACL Injuries

About one-third of all skiing injuries involve the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. The risk of injury is highest for skiers who are relatively new to skiing, over 40 years of ages, or are using fat skis. A knee or ACL injury from skiing is usually caused by a forceful twist of the knee joint, sometimes as a result of a fall or an awkward landing from a ski jump.

How do I know if I have a knee or ACL injury from skiing or snowboarding?

You’ll know you have a knee or ACL injury when you feel immediate pain in your knee. Some tell-tale signs include a ‘pop’ sound at the time of injury, followed by knee pain, swelling, and tenderness on the inside of the knee. The amount of pain and how long it stays painful will depend on the degree of the injury.

For example, it will be difficult to bend and straighten your knee, it will be painful to walk or manage stairs, and there will likely be some swelling and perhaps bruising. If you’re still unable to bear weight after half an hour or so, go see a doctor, as they may order an x-ray to rule out a fracture.

How to treat an ACL injury from skiing or snowboarding?

The first step to treating a knee or ACL injury is to stop skiing immediately! If the injury is not too severe, it will likely heal with protection-bracing, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (PRICE) and physiotherapy treatment. Our physiotherapists will provide you with body awareness exercises (proprioception) and early-stage balance exercises.

Later on, we’ll have you start doing squats, lunges, deadlifts, and continue to work the core and hip musculature. Agility drills with and without impact will be incorporated as well. Acupuncture can also be used to reduce inflammation and muscle tension and increase blood flow, thereby enhancing the healing process.

How to avoid an ACL injury while skiing or snowboarding?

To avoid a knee or ACL injury while skiing:

  1. Don’t ski when you’re fatigued. Most injuries happen at the end of the day or toward the end of a ski vacation.
  2. Maintain your fitness all year so your body is strong and flexible when you hit the slopes.
  3. Take extra care to strengthen the muscles around your knees, hips and core muscles.

2. Wrist Injuries

Wrist injuries are most common for snowboarders or inexperienced skiers. For example, with two feet attached to a single snowboard, boarders only have their hands to break a fall. This can result in strains (overstretched muscles), sprains (overstretched ligaments), and fractures to the small bones of the wrist or the end of the forearm bone (radius).

How do I know if I have a wrist injury from skiing or snowboarding?

You’ll know something’s wrong if you experience pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and warmth in your wrist as a result of injury or accident. Along with any of these injuries, you may feel a popping or snapping sensation in your wrist.

How do I treat a wrist injury from skiing or snowboarding?

Treatment for wrist injuries depends on the severity of the injury and the amount of pain experienced by the person. If there is immediate swelling and bruising and it’s extremely painful to move the wrist, a doctor should be seen right away to take X-rays and determine if there’s a fracture. If there isn’t immediate swelling or bruising, then use the PRICE method of treatment and see a physiotherapist or physician to determine the severity of the injury and come up with the proper treatment.

How to avoid a wrist injury while skiing or snowboarding?

To avoid a wrist injury, we recommend:

  1. Wearing wrist guards
  2. Learning how to fall properly from a snowboarding or skiing professional
  3. Strengthen your wrists with exercises using free weights (like wrist curls) or your own body weight (like push-ups)

3. Back Injuries

There can be many different types of back injuries as a result of skiing or snowboarding. The most common back injuries are muscle pulls (strains) and ligament injuries (when the back muscles are overstretched or sprained). When you’re moving as fast as people do when they ski and you fall, the forces involved are great enough to over-stretch your back muscles and ligaments.

A back injury is also more likely to happen when your back muscles are fatigued. If you haven’t warmed up enough and ski too hard on the first run or two, you’ll have a greater chance of a muscle strain or ligament sprain because your muscles haven’t had a chance to warm up enough.

How do I know if I have a back injury from skiing or snowboarding?

You’ll know if you have a back injury when you feel pain with any kind of movement around your lower back. This will often be a sharp pain which can also be a dull pain when you’re not moving. You may also feel localised pain right above your buttocks, but not usually past the buttock. Sometimes tingling or pins and needles can be felt in either your lower back or down your leg. However, bruising or swelling is not usually seen.

How can I treat a back injury from skiing or snowboarding?

The most important thing to do if you feel you have a back injury is to stop skiing or snowboarding! Take it easy, but stay moving and use heat or ice (whichever feels better). If it’s a ligament or a deep muscle injury, the cold from the ice won’t have an influence to reduce swelling and inflammation, but it can help to relax the superficial muscles which will automatically tighten up in response to the pain or injury.

Medications such as anti-inflammatories (e.g. Advil or Aleve) or painkillers (e.g. Tylenol) can also be helpful if you’re able to take these safely. Check with your pharmacist or physician if you’re not sure.

Do easy stretches, keeping them pain-free! For example, single knee to chest, windshield wipers, or pelvic tilts. However, if the pain is unbearable, go see your doctor!

You can also give our clinic a call for advice pertaining to your specific needs. Our back pain treatments include myofascial release, vertebral mobilization, acupuncture, cupping, IMS, ultrasound therapy, kinesiotaping, and massage therapy.

How do I avoid a back injury while skiing or snowboarding?

The best way to avoid a back injury while skiing or snowboarding is to warm up before hitting the slopes! A well rested, flexible, and strong back is your best defence against an injury. You should also avoid difficult runs and always ski within your ability.

4. Tailbone Injuries

The tailbone or coccyx is the small bone at the bottom of your spine, or the tip of the spine that you sit on. It can break or be pushed forwards with a hard landing on your bum, which commonly happens with skiing!

How do I know if I have a tailbone injury from skiing or snowboarding?

Oh, you’ll know it! You’ll start to feel pain immediately, directly on the tailbone. Most of the time you’ll begin to notice swelling, and at times bruising at the top of your buttock. Your tailbone will also feel very tender to the touch and sitting will be painful as your body weight will exert too much pressure for comfort. You may also find it painful to walk.

How do I treat a tailbone injury from skiing or snowboarding?

The best way to help treat a tailbone injury is to ice it and take anti-inflammatory medication, for example anti-inflammatory cream (e.g. extra strength Voltaren). If you can’t walk properly or sit without severe pain after two or three days, we recommend seeing your doctor for x-rays, higher dose pain medication, or a donut pillow to sit on.

If the pain isn’t going away after a week or so, or if you start getting pain elsewhere, we recommend seeing a physiotherapist. At our clinic we use soft tissue manual therapy to help reduce the tension on the tailbone. We may also recommend ultrasound therapy, TENS, or acupuncture.

5. Shoulder Injuries

There exist a few common types of shoulder injuries due to skiing: fractures of the humerus and collar bone, rotator cuff strains, dislocations of the big ball and socket joint or the collar bone, ligament sprains of the shoulder/collar bone. We’ll focus on rotator cuff strains and dislocations — these injuries usually happen as a result of:

  1. Falling in an awkward manner where the arm is over your head, behind your back, or when trying to grab onto something while skiing.
  2. Trying to grab onto something while moving so the muscles contract very hard, but at the same time get stretched. For example, grabbing onto a tree to slow down or grabbing onto a friend.

How do I know if I have a rotator cuff injury from skiing or snowboarding?

You’ll know you’re suffering from a rotator cuff strain or dislocation because it will hurt immediately after the fall or incident. However, sometimes it can also take up to three or four days for your shoulder to start hurting.

Pain will usually be felt at the top of the shoulder, or at the back of the shoulder near the top, or on the outside of the upper arm. If the injury is really bad, the pain will go down the arm past the elbow. It will be painful to reach out to the side, lift your arm away from your body, reach behind you or over your head (e.g. putting on a jacket, reaching for your seatbelt, etc). You may even feel pain at night while sleeping, especially if lying you sleep on the same side as your sore shoulder.

How do I treat a rotator cuff injury from skiing or snowboarding?

The best thing you can do is rest! However, you should also keep your arm moving in a pain-free range. For the first few days ice it regularly and then apply heat. If your pain doesn’t subside, consider booking a physiotherapy appointment for the proper stretches and exercises. Our physiotherapists will provide you with a customized treatment plan that can include IMS, acupuncture, cupping, myofascial release, ultrasound therapy, massage therapy, and more.

How do I avoid a rotator cuff injury while skiing or snowboarding?

To avoid a rotator cuff injury while skiing or snowboarding:

  1. Keep your rotator cuff muscles strong with strengthening exercise.
  2. Keep your shoulders flexible through stretches.

Simply make sure you ski within your ability to avoid a fall.

How do I know if I dislocated my shoulder while skiing or snowboarding?

You’ll know you dislocated your shoulder if you feel immediate pain in your shoulder with the inability to move your arm. You might have a divot on the outside of the shoulder where the ball should be and or a “step deformity” where the outside tip of the collar bone is sticking up.

How do I treat a dislocated shoulder from skiing or snowboarding?

If you have a dislocated shoulder, see a doctor immediately or go to the Emergency department at the nearest hospital! You’ll be treated with painkillers and then they’ll take x rays to determine the severity of your injury.

Doctors will recommend a sling for at least two weeks and then to start physiotherapy. Physiotherapy treatments can include strengthening exercises that focus on the muscles that move your shoulders but also give stability to the muscles that attach the shoulder to your chest. Additional treatments may include myofascial release, acupuncture, cupping, and kinesiotaping.

How do I avoid a dislocated shoulder while skiing or snowboarding?

To avoid dislocating your shoulder on the slopes, you can wear a padded top or upper body protective wear that fits like a shirt with padding around your shoulders. Also, don’t forget to keep the shoulders strong and flexible!

6. Skier’s Thumb

Most of the time, ski poles help skiers avoid injuries by providing balance and stability on the slopes. However, if you fall unexpectedly, the handle of the pole may push your thumb backwards too much, resulting in stretching or tearing the ligament between the thumb and index finger.

How do I know I’m suffering from skier’s thumb?

Symptoms of skier’s thumb may include immediate pain, swelling and bruising at the base of the thumb, and trouble grasping or pinching with your thumb and index finger.

How do I treat skier’s thumb?

To treat skier’s thumb, we recommend you see a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible, as you may need a splint, or if it’s severe enough, even surgery. In the meantime, ice your thumb for 15-20 minutes, up to four times a day. Stabilize the thumb with a wrist brace or a tensor bandage.

How to avoid injury from skier’s thumb?

To avoid injuring your hands when you fall, let go of your ski poles instead of clutching them. Use poles with finger-groove grips instead of wrist straps and make sure you hold the poles properly with the handle fitting into the web-space (the “V”) between your thumb and index finger — you should not have the backside of the handle against the inside of your thumb.

Are you worried about a skiing injury?

If you’ve fallen on the slopes and are in pain, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a medical professional. Minor injuries can often be treated with physiotherapy, and you can book an appointment here without a doctor’s referral.

If you want to learn more about how to keep your body safe this ski season, check out these tips to prevent a skiing injury!