Ski strong: Strength, mobility key to winter injury prevention

John Walsh offers tips on injury prevention. | Priya Hutner

The snow glistens and sparkles. Your ski catches an edge, maybe on a patch of ice, a protruding stick or some unseen object, and sends you careening off balance. You try to right yourself to counter the issues to no avail and you end up injured and maybe out for the rest of the season.

Skiing, snowboarding or slipping on the ice can happen to anyone. I asked three health care professionals to share their tips to prevent injuries before they happen.

Practice mobility exercises
Local chiropractor Dr. John Walsh of Sierra Sports Care & Chiropractic offers workshops on injury prevention and I attended a recent presentation at The Yoga Room in Tahoe City. Walsh is committed to helping decrease acute injuries on the hill before they occur. A passionate skier, he reminds the class that as we age, our joints degenerate.

“We can reduce injury if mobility is increased,” says Walsh, who formulated a 10-minute routine of mobility exercises that he says can help prevent injuries.

“Skiing is a multi-faceted activity. It touches the spine, hips, knees and ankles,” he explains.

He points out five pillars of fitness vital to preventing injuries. They include posture/alignment, diaphragmatic breathing, mobility, stability and strength, and adds that stretching is also important. He adds that static stretches are not enough to help move the necessary fluids that help lubricate the joints. Muscles need to be warmed up before hitting the slopes to prevent injuries and that hydration is also important.

Focus on strength training
Dr. Alison Ganong, a former ski racer, offers sage advice for injury prevention. Her practice, Tahoe Regenerative Sports Medicine, focuses on wellness and preventative care. Ganong recommends a dynamic workout routine, ski conditioning training and multi-directional strength workouts before heading to the mountain. She points out that core strength and working on the deep stabilizers of the spine are essential.


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“I see a lot of spine and knee injuries from skiing. I think flexibility and strength exercises are important. Balancing exercises are also important,” says Ganong, adding maintaining good posture is also vital. She is a proponent of yoga, Pilates and cycling to help prevent injuries.

Focus on reducing injury
Scott Williams, a physical therapist and owner of Synergy Healing Arts, teaches ski conditioning classes and injury prevention workshops. According to Williams, certain factors can determine who is more prone to injuries, such as prior injuries and imbalances in the body. He simplifies the concept of identifying asymmetry in the body.

“If one leg is more flexible than the other, that’s an imbalance, that’s an asymmetry,” he explains.

Williams emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing these imbalances. Other factors include compromised movement patterns (poor eccentric control) and delayed reaction time when falling. Both can increase the risk of injury. To mitigate risk, he recommends incorporating activities like jumping rope, using a rebounder and engaging in plyometric exercises to improve reaction time and reduce the likelihood of injury.

This winter be aware, conscious and present while enjoying your time on the hill. Remember to warm up before any outdoor activity.


Dr. John Walsh’s Mobility Routine

Practice 3-4 reps of each mobility activation routine

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Lift one leg in the air and bend. Alternate with each leg.

2. Figure 4 Pose: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Reach your right hand through your legs and interlace fingers just below the crease of your left knee. Hold the pose. Repeat on the other side.

2a. In Figure 4 Pose, rock side to side.

3. In a lying spinal twist, sweep your upper arm around and then reverse. Alternative sides.

4. Table Pose: Come to the floor on your hands and knees. Bring the knees hip-width apart, with the feet directly behind the knees.

5. Cat/Cow: From Table Pose, inhale and drop the belly toward the mat. Lift your chin and chest and look up. Exhale, pull the navel to the spine, and arch the back.

6. Cat/Cow Push-Up

7. Table Pose with arm and leg extension: Extend right arm and left leg, hold and breath.

8. . While in Table Pose, bring elbow to knee for four reps, switch sides.

8. Table Pose and thread the needle, extend the arm overhead.

10. Downward Dog-Plank-Cobra, repeat 3-4 times.

11. Child’s Pose.

12. Kneeling Lunge with arms raised overhead

13. Seated Butterfly Pose, lift your knees up and down

14. . From Butterfly Pose, bend forward

15. Standing Pose one leg balance

16. Modified Dancer Pose: Bend the right knee, heel to buttock, grab the foot with the right hand, extend the left arm up and balance. Use a wall if necessary. Repeat on the opposite side.

Walsh also employed some simple Qi Gong poses to finish his routine. Walsh suggests using a Thera-gun, Thera-cane, fascia roller, stretching with straps and a lacrosse ball to help warm up muscles, as well.

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