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Top tips to avoid skiing injuries

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Feeling inspired by the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang? Whether you are a recreational skier or professional athlete, skiing injuries are unpredictable and common.

We speak to Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr James Youngman who forms part of London Knee Specialists about skiing injuries and his tips to prevent them.

Tell us about your experience of treating skiing injuries?

I receive a variety of winter sports injuries, obviously at this time of year there tends to be a flurry of injuries with people returning from the slopes. I see between 5-10 injuries a week throughout the season, with a range of fractures to ligaments and meniscal tears, as well as high energy injuries involving major fractures to the tibia, as well as upper limb.

The majority of injuries include slips and trips on icy surfaces when not skiing, individuals should make a careful assessment of the surfaces when walking around the resort, such as bathroom or kitchen surfaces, which tend to get excessively slippery.

What are the most common skiing injuries? Do they differ?

I see a variety of injuries, often involving bindings not releasing, this could be prevented by having an accurate weight assessment when hiring skis. Ski boots become more protective of the ankle and lower leg, therefore ankle fractures and tibia shaft fractures are less common, this then transfers any strain to the proximal upper tibia and knee.

A common pattern of injury is a rotator injury which ruptures knee ligaments and menisci, in combination with tibia plateau fractures. Last year, I treated a number of high energy ski related femoral fractures – involving rotational forces causing a spiral fracture.

How do skiing injuries differ from professional athletes to recreational skiers?

Professional sportspeople  are likely to be pushing themselves at high speed and if it all goes wrong the energy of injury is likely to cause severe multi-fragmented fractures, however, their training and experience is based on risk assessment and minimising the risks of injury.

Recreational skiers tend to injure themselves because they taking risks such as skiing too fast for their experience level and reaction times, thus underestimating the strain they will apply to their body. Skiing is an exciting and unpredictable sport which can put extreme force on the body, creating injury throughout the skeleton.

What methods could be taken to prevent a skiing injury?

The key things to prevent severe injuries:

  • Wear helmets,
  • Keep warm and comfortable on the slopes.
  • Keep well hydrated so that you are alert to dangers at all stages Slowly and progressively picking up speed with technique and not being over ambitious with the severity of the slopes,
  • Understand the conditions of the snow add to the difficulty as much as the slope gradient, so a relative easy slope can be treacherous with rocky conditions.

In which instances would surgery be recommended?

We tend to operate on unstable fractures that are likely to cause long term problems, the aim is to restore anatomy and function early to allow patients to rehabilitate and regain normal activity as soon as possible.

How long a recovery period is there before someone could ski again?

For most injuries, the bones will have 70% healed within 6 weeks, and 90% healed within 3 months. But severe injuries such as open tibia fractures with high energy – means that healing time could be a minimum of a year. Complex knee ligament injuries require knee constraints, which can take 6-9 months to return to athletic activity, and fully improve for up to a year.

If someone was injured abroad, what would be the process from slope to surgery?

They would be taken by blood wagon or helicopter off the mountain or slopes by local emergency services, there’s a variety of local doctors and emergency units that will initially assess them. Because there’s such a high frequency of orthopaedic injuries, many local doctors are experienced in reducing minimal and serious injuries. The major towns have facilities for x-ray, MRI and orthopaedic opinion. Generally most injuries can be stabilised with external splints and plaster casts or crutches, so that the patient can return to London for their definitive care.

Why should a patient visit a dedicated clinic such as London Knee Specialists?

At London Knee Specialists we are able to accept rapid referrals from our walk-in urgent care centre Casualty First. As part of the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth, we have swift access to radiology, x-ray and MRI scans with the most updated 3T scanners. Our experienced orthopaedic and physiotherapy teams are able to guide the rehabilitation process and if patients require surgery we have an excellent inpatient and day case facility with state-of-the-art theatre facilities.

Will you be watching the Winter Olympics? 

I shall be watching, in particular I’m looking forward to following the downhill skiing but my favourite event is always the giant slalom.

 

Book an appointment

If you would like to book an appointment with Mr James Youngman or at the London Knee Specialists, then contact us on londonkneespecialists@hje.org.uk or call 020 7432 8328.

 

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