Winter in Wisconsin can be brutal – but there is a fun side. The outdoor activities that come with snowfall can make the winter months a bit more bearable. Skiing, especially, is an exhilarating winter pastime – but pain can often stop avid skiers from taking to the slopes. Here are six great tips to keep back and knee pain at bay so you enjoy your time on the slopes.
Make sure your knees are in the correct position.
Knee pain is one of the main types of pain associated with skiing. For those with current knee pain and those trying to avoid it, proper knee posture is a must. Many people’s knees drop inward during skiing; instead of being right above the feet, they’re leaning toward the inside. (To see if you do this, practice your skiing stance in the mirror.) This improper alignment puts more pressure on the knees, causing inflammation. To address this, practice bending and straightening your knees in front of the mirror, making sure your knee lines up with your second or third toe. Do 30 reps 3-4 times a day, then graduate to doing it without the mirror.1 Also be sure to balance your weight along your whole foot, not just your heels, to prevent pain around your kneecap.
Strengthen your quads.
Quad strength is vitally important when skiing; it’s what allows you to achieve the proper knee-bent, squatting position. To get them into peak form, stand on a step with one leg up. Slowly bend the knee you’re standing on, then straighten it. (Make sure your knees are in the proper position above your toes and that your hips stay level.) During the off-season, keep your quads strong with cycling and squats or lunges. Also, make sure your ski position doesn’t have your butt too low; this makes it more difficult for your quads to work as they should, and also puts more strain on your knees.
Improve your core strength.
While skiing, the body’s core muscles – particularly those in the lower back and abdominals – help you maintain a proper skiing form, which, in turn, prevents you from aggravating painful sites or incurring new pain. (Strengthening core muscles can also help reduce existing back pain.) To improve your core, start with leg extensions, where you lie on your back with your knees bent and your abs tightened, then kick one leg out straight before returning to the starting position. (Do this 10 times with each leg.) After you’ve mastered that, move on to bridges (lie on your back with your knees bent and abs tight, then raise your buttocks and hold for five seconds) and modified planks (start on your knees and elbows and hold yourself up for a period, working up to 30-60 seconds). For more core-strengthening exercise, download our Stretching Exercises for Pain Reduction guide.
Water makes a big difference when it comes to your muscles. Losing water through sweating has been shown to decrease muscle strength. Consuming water, on the other hand, helps your body build new muscle tissue. So to keep your muscles strong – which can help you maintain proper posture and limit the risk of pain – make it a point to stay hydrated. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking about 17 ounces of water two hours before exercise, then at regular intervals during exercise to replace lost fluids.
Maintain your exercise habits throughout the year.
Skiing is a great form of exercise, but just like any other type of exercise, it’s hard to jump into it without proper preparation and training. Try to maintain an exercise regime throughout the year, so you’re ready for the ski season when it comes. (It will also help reduce existing pain.) If, like many others, you find yourself out of shape come winter, try to begin an exercise and core-strengthening program at least six weeks before you begin skiing for the season. This way, your body will be prepared and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself while on the slopes or experience lingering pain afterward. Also, remember to ease yourself into skiing at the beginning of the season. Too much too quickly is a recipe for injury. Start with a limited ski trip, then gradually work up to longer periods.
Stretch and ice after you’re finished.
Skiing can often result in delayed onset muscle soreness, which results from small tears in the muscle during physical activity and causes muscle inflammation. It’s most common when starting a sport back up again or increasing your intensity level and can happen for people of all activity and skill levels. Reducing this after skiing can help you get back to the ski slopes quicker. After you finish a run down the black diamond, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, ice your knees and legs during the first 24 to 72 hours and be sure to stretch. Try to rest your legs for a few days to allow them to recuperate before going back out. If the pain lingers past a few days – or your existing pain is still stopping you from skiing – consider seeing a doctor or pain management specialist.