Ask the Doctor

ACL Injuries and Downhill Skiing: Prevention and Treatment

Hear a free presentation from Dr. Buck on Downhill Skiing: Prevention and Treatment of Knee Injuries, February 20th at 6:00 pm at the Kirkendall Public Library in Ankeny.

Peter Buck, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery, McFarland Clinic

Q: What are the most common injuries related to skiing?

A: Skiing is a great way to exercise. It combines the exhilaration of speed and movement in a spectacular mountain setting. Skiing demands aerobic conditioning, strength and balance. Ski injuries can be significant and serious. Knee ligament injuries are the most common, particularly involving the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Injuries of the knee account for over 45 percent of all ski-related injuries. Other common injuries include ligament injuries to the thumb; shoulder dislocations and fractures; broken legs and various contusions. While skiing presents a risk for injury, a little common sense and preparedness can greatly reduce the risks.

Dr. Peter BuckQ: What steps can I take to prevent ski-related injury this winter?

A: Minimizing risk for ski injury starts well in advance of hitting the slopes. Aerobic exercise, balance activities and weight training are all important. A good ski conditioning program may help keep you injury free and increase your enjoyment on the slopes. It is important to take into account your level of ability. Knowing what slopes work best for your level of experience will reduce your chance of injury. Remember to wear protective gear, particularly a helmet. As with any sport, a warm-up is necessary. In this case, taking several easier ski runs is an appropriate way to warm up before tackling harder terrain. Don't over-exert yourself, as many injuries occur at the end of the day when a skier is fatigued.

Q: What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?

A: A sprain is a stretch or tear of the ligament. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that join the end of one bone to another. The most common sprains seen in skiing involve the knee, wrist, thumb
and shoulder. Though sprains vary with severity, common symptoms include pain, swelling and bruising. A severe sprain may be associated with a feeling of a joint "pop" at the time of injury. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Tendons are the thin fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone. Strains generally are not as serious as sprains.

Q: How can I treat my sprain or strain?

A: In very mild cases, just remember R.I.C.E. This stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. These steps will help minimize swelling and damage. In more serious cases, it is important to have the injury evaluated by a medical professional who will help you decide what treatment options are best. At their worst, sprains and strains require surgery and rehabilitation. It is best to check with your doctor if the severity of sprain or strain is questionable.

Q: What is "skier's thumb?"

A: "Skier's thumb" refers to an injury to a thumb ligament that is important for thumb function. A fall on an outstretched hand with a ski pole attached may create the force necessary to press the thumb backwards and stretch or tear this ligament, hence the nickname "skier’s thumb." Symptoms include the inability to grasp objects between your thumb and index finger and pain with movement. If you experience these symptoms, you might have "skier's thumb" and should consult a physician.