What are Common Ski Racing Injuries?

Alpine ski racing comprises 5 disciplines: Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Parallel ski racing. Even with years of experience, and excellent skiing technique, accidents happen. Olympic downhill racers can clock speeds of 75 and 95 mph. Traveling at high velocities can lead to high energy falls, and ultimately injury. The most common injuries seen in ski racers involve the knee, shoulder, and upper extremities.

Due to the high energy pivoting and twisting movements required by the knee, knee injuries are commonly seen in ski racers. Shoulders also bear the brunt of a hard landing. This impact can injure single or multiple components of the shoulder complex. Elbows, wrists and hands are also commonly injured. U.S. Ski Team Physician Dr. Richard Cunningham discusses common injuries seen in ski racers and how to prevent them.

Common Knee Injuries in Ski Racers

Tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), often in combination with the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) occurs not uncommonly in ski racers. These ligaments make up two of the four main ligaments of the knee complex. These ligaments work together to keep the knee in proper position. Ski racing creates high forces on the knee, given the large fulcrum a ski exerts on the knee and the high rates of speed. Pushing the limit of the natural knee range of motion creates risk for injury.

An ACL tear or rupture can happen with a sudden deceleration, pivot, improper landing or hyperextension of the knee. A popping sound, pain, and immediate swelling are commonly reported. Patients immediately feel unstable but can typically put weight on the leg.

Common Shoulder Injuries in Ski Racers

Common shoulder injuries in ski racing include shoulder dislocations, clavicle (collarbone) fractures, and humerus fractures. These injuries typically occur due to a high-velocity fall. Impact to the shoulder can cause a dislocation or fracture. Tendons, muscles and ligaments may also be damaged.

How to Treat Skiing Injuries

Acute ski injuries typically require immediate treatment. Once off the slopes, applying ice and elevating will help minimize swelling and inflammation. It is important to see a sports medicine doctor as soon as possible, for a comprehensive examination and diagnosis. A treatment plan can then be determined.

The severity of a shoulder injury will determine the treatment plan. If the injury is minor, the treatment plan will be conservative, including: rest, ice, compression, possibly anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications, and physical therapy. For athletes with acute damage, a surgery may be indicated. Dr. Cunningham is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in treating shoulder and knee injuries.

Similarly, if one injures their knee, patients are encouraged to rest, ice, elevate, and compress (RICE). This helps minimize pain, swelling, and inflammation. Seeing an orthopedic surgeon at the first opportunity will determine the diagnosis and best course of treatment. Treatment can range from conservative home care treatment to surgical repair.Dr. Cunningham is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in treating shoulder and knee injuries.

How to Prevent Injuries in Ski Racers

Preparation, fitness, proper equipment and technique are all essential for the ski racing athlete to prevent injuries. Fitness preparation includes the commitment to overall conditioning and a focus on core strengthening. Fluidity of motion and maintaining firm yet responsive balance are the benefits. Correct use of proper equipment is also essential for preventing a ski racing injury. Unfortunately, even with the proper preparation, ski racing has inherent risks of injury.

If you have sustained a knee and/or shoulder injury from ski racing, contact U.S. Ski Team Physician Richard Cunningham, MD today to get back to ski racing.

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Rediscover your inner athlete

Dr. Cunningham specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder, and sports injuries.

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