Skiing, as with any high speed, high impact sport, comes with the risk of injury. Even if you’re a world-class athlete with decades of experience under your belt, getting hurt is often unavoidable. You can do off-season training to build strength and practice safe skiing habits to limit your potential for injury, but there’s no way to prevent them from happening in the first place.
There are many different injuries that can occur while skiing, but one of the most common is a knee injury. You use your knees non-stop while skiing, so it’s no wonder that those type of injuries occur. We’ll break down some of the most common skiing knee injuries here so you know what to look out for, how to treat them, and how long a specific knee injury might set you back.
A Quick Disclaimer
I’m going to suggest some easy treatment for minor knee injuries in this article, but you shouldn’t take it as direct medical advice. While I’m an experienced skier who has dealt with many injuries over the years, I am not a qualified medical professional. If you have a serious injury, you need to consult your doctor for the best treatment.
1. Knee Sprains
A knee sprain is one of the most common knee injuries that can occur while skiing. A sprain is a general term for the overuse or stretching of a ligament in any part of the body. The knee has several major ligaments that hold everything together. A sprain to any of them is common due to the constant twisting, turning, and impact that happens when you’re skiing.
A knee sprain can range from minor discomfort to a complete tear of a ligament that requires surgery. We will look at ligament tears soon, but the most common sign of a knee sprain is pain and swelling. If you make a sharp turn, have a bad landing, or get hit by another skier or obstacle, you can sprain your knee. Any unnatural movement in the wrong direction can cause a knee sprain.
You will quickly notice a knee sprain due to both discomfort or pain. The knee may feel weak or loose and you might have some swelling that occurs shortly after the injury or when you leave the mountain. For more severe sprains, you might hear a popping noise and more severe pain.
The best way to treat a sprained knee is to rest. If you keep skiing, you risk reinjuring the knee or causing more severe damage. You should stop skiing if you think you’ve sprained your knee and wrap an ice pack around it to reduce swelling and pain. Once it heals up a bit, a compression sleeve or knee brace can help you get back on the snow in a short amount of time.
2. Ligament Tears
A more severe injury that’s related to a knee sprain is a torn ligament. This injury is bad news for any skier because it can mean the end of your ski season in an instant. A torn ligament occurs when the knee is bent in a way that overstretches the ligament enough to literally tear it. You can have a partial tear that can heal over time or a complete tear that will require surgery to properly fix.
Your knee is made up of four different major ligaments: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
MCL tears are probably the most common ligament injury that can occur while you’re skiing. They often happen when you land awkwardly after a jump or when your knee twists violently. If you only have a slight MCL tear, rest and rehab can have you back on the slopes in a few months or less. If it’s completely torn, you will most likely need surgery and your season will be over.
ACL tears are less frequent, but they almost always require season-ending surgery. These tears are often associated with a popping noise or sensation that happens when the injury occurs. While it sounds gruesome to tear or snap a ligament, the first time I tore my ACL skiing, it didn’t hurt all that much. However, I lost almost all stability in my knee and couldn’t really ski.
If you think you may have torn a ligament in your knee, you should get help and not attempt to ski down. If you do, you can risk tearing another ligament because your knee is unstable. Surgery will fix a torn ligament, but the rehab process can take months. Be sure to stick to your physical therapy to get back on the snow sooner and rebuild any lost strength.
3. Meniscus Tears
There is both a medial and lateral meniscus in your knee. These are basically shock absorbers that keep your two leg bones from grinding into one another when you do any sort of movement. You can tear them doing high impact activities like skiing.
Meniscus injuries can happen in the same manner as a sprain or a ligament tear: by hyperextension or severe impact resulting from any number of different skiing maneuvers. This type of knee injury isn’t always as apparent as a tear. You might not feel that much pain, but as you keep skiing, it can get a lot worse. This makes it hard to self diagnose a meniscus tear.
Swelling and pain while you’re skiing or even just walking are signs of a meniscus tear. Binding up or locking are also symptoms associated with the injury. If you suspect you have a meniscus injury, you should go to the doctor for a diagnosis. You might need an X-ray or MRI to properly find out what’s going on.
A torn meniscus can be treated with rest and doesn’t always require surgery. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remove torn cartilage or clean up a knee. This is usually arthroscopic surgery, which is not too invasive and the recovery time can be quick.
Any injury is likely to slow you down, and a knee injury can be a real bummer for your ski season. Always ski within your means to try and prevent avoidable injuries. If you put in work in the off-season to build strength, you will be less likely to get injured. However, nothing can make you superhuman. Injuries occur to the best of us and it’s important to get the proper treatment so you can heal quickly.
If you do happen to get a severe knee injury while skiing, follow your doctor’s advice in order to properly treat it. Remember that consistent rehab and a positive mental attitude can help you recover quicker and have you back on the snow sooner.
Have you ever had a knee injury while skiing? How long did it take to recover? Let us know in the comments below!