Stay injury free is a great goal for the snow season, downunder or up top. So we asked ‘Physio Phebe’ Liston for the lowdown. From you to your gear set up to protection, Phebe has some great tips. Based in Bright at the foot of mighty Mt Hotham, Australia’s powder capital, she has been dealing with snow clients for many years and is a keen skier and Hotham Ambassador herself.
PART 1 – Preparation Is Key
While there will always be an element of risk involved with skiing or snowboarding, there are certainly things that you can do to minimise your chance of getting injured this snow season. This series will focus on the key things to consider to help minimse injury on the slopes, starting with a few of the basic essentials.
Building strength in the specific muscles you use when skiing and snowboarding is key, but so is improving your balance and joint mobility. Pilates classes or snow specific fitness programs are a great way to target all of those elements in the months leading up to your snow trip or season.
Being snow-fit will help lower your risk of overloading structures in and around your joints and you will be less likely to experience the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which typically happens 1-2 days after a new or unaccustomed activity. You should also make sure you have adequately rehabilitated any injuries from previous trips, by checking in with your physiotherapist prior to your first day on the slopes.
Get your Technique Sorted
Using correct technique is an important one. Teaching your brain the best way to move to maximise the ability of the joints, tendons, and muscles is pivotal to avoid overloading certain areas of your body and being able to react to a change in condition to avoid falling.
If you feel your technique could do with some tweaks, I would recommendbooking a couple of lessons and get it sorted. While it will be an expense initially, it may save you a lot of medical/physiotherapy bills down the track should you sustain an injury that may have been avoided.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
While the temptation to ski all day and party all night is often there, if you’re struggling with DOMS or just generally tired, it’s a good idea to call it early! A good night’s sleep will help with muscle recovery and minimise the severity of next day muscle soreness.
PART 2 – Get Your Equipment In Order
Equipment set-up is an important element in minimising both acute and overuse injuries on the slopes. For starters, making sure your skis or board are the right size so that you can control them/it efficiently is key. If they/it are too long or wide for your height or skill level, you will use poor technique, get fatigued sooner and put yourself at higher risk of falling or overloading your muscles and tendons.
For ski’s, making sure your bindings are on the right setting to match your skill level is particularly important in preventing acute knee injuries. For beginners, you want the ski’s to pop off more readily if you fall so you are at less risk of twisting the knee ligaments with your foot stuck in the ski. Then conversely, if you are an advanced skier, you need the bindings set tight enough so they don’t just pop off if you hit a bump at speed. So when hiring or buying, don’t rush the process and read and fill out any forms honestly and accurately.
For snowboarding, your knees take a lot of the load, so to prevent overuse injuries getting the binding position set-up right is key. The recommended position will vary for each individual as, for example, some people have tighter hips or ankles. If you tend to naturally squat with your knees together, then it is best to keep the angle fairly straight, whereas if you tend to squat with your knees out, then you are better to widen the angle. It may take a few goes to get the position right and as a general rule, if you are feeling pain on the outer part of your knee when riding you may have too much angle and if you feel pain on the inner part you may not have enough.
Taking the time to get it right can save you a lot of time rehabilitating an injury down the track. If you have had an injury in the past, I recommend you discuss your set-up with your physio (one that understands the demands of snow sports).
PART 3 – Protect Yourself
There are factors that may cause you to fall that are outside of your control, such as variable weather conditions or an out of control beginner skier or boarder! This is why wearing protective gear is also important for preventing injuries, in particular impact injuries caused from falling or crashing.
If you fall you are at risk of hitting your head and causing a serious head injury, similar to if you fall off a bike, so a helmet is a must. A helmet can help protect you from (or at least decrease the severity of) serious head injuries such as skull fractures and head or face lacerations. The other advantages of helmets are they keep you warm and help to hold your goggles in place!
Wrist Guards for Snowboarders
The wrist is one of the most common sites for injuries with snowboarders as when you fall, your natural response is to put your hands down to break your fall, forcing your wrist to bend back. Wrist guards aim to limit this movement, to minimise the risk of fracture and are recommended for snowboarders of all skill levels.
There are a range of garments now available that are designed with impact protection padding over areas that skiers and boarders are prone to falling onto, such as the hips and tailbone. This will help to decrease the risk or severity of impact injuries to these areas and they can be worn in place of (or over the top of) thermals.
Editor’s note: Also check out the awesome Aussie designed Drífa clothing – a range of jackets and pants with slip in pads for the elbows, hips and tail bone areas. We got onto to Drífa last year and have been smashing trees and being our usual silly goat selves without a bruise since switching to them. Full story on that here.
Follow up – find Phebe’s chatbot and online info
If all else fails and you do get injured this season, head straight to your local medical centre. You can also use my free injury guiding chatbot which will guide you through what to do, who to see & when to see them. Just search Physio Phebe in your Facebook Messenger app.
Phebe Liston is a leading Physiotherapist based in the adventure capital of Australia, Bright in Victoria. Phebe’s passion for alpine and action sports has seen her become an in demand Physiotherapist working with some of Australia’s top adventure athletes. In 2018, Phebe created a world first chat bot, Physio Phebe, housed within Facebook Messenger. This cutting-edge use of technology is a free service designed to be the first point of care for someone with an injury or someone experiencing pain.