Down, but Not Out

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, January 1999

Down, but Not Out
No-nonsense rehab to get you back on the slopes

By Kevin Foley

The season's finally under way, with rocks covered and bumps taking shape, when an injury forces you to trade in your ski boots for mukluks. On the bright side, a hit at this time of year means there's still time to recover before the April thaw — assuming you take your pain seriously. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard a patient say, 'It didn't hurt much, so I didn't see anyone,'" says Robert Johnson, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Vermont and a renowned expert on ski injuries. "Then they get hurt again and have to see someone." His advice: Consult a doctor to make sure that you're strained or sprained, rather than broken or torn. Herewith, how best to handle the most common mishaps.

The Injury: Knee sprain

The Fallen: Alpine, nordic, and telemark skiers

The Incident: Retreating from a lift line, you cross your tips and hit the ground in a slow, twisting fall, extending the medial collateral ligament well beyond its advisable limit.

The Workout: To combine the strength, balance, and flexibility you'll need, do three sets of 12 reps of the following exercises in this order: one-legged squats, lunges, regular squats, hamstring curls, and leg presses. Use no weights for three weeks and then add light weights. Stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors will ease pain.

The Injury: Ankle sprain

The Fallen: Snowboarders, telemark skiers

The Incident: With feet comfortably encased in soft boots, the victim-to-be plants an edge — the wrong edge — and falls in one direction while his board shoots off in the other.

The Workout: To regain flexibility, slowly trace an imaginary alphabet with the big toe. Shore up the weak spot with calf raises (lifting up on your tiptoes) and this exercise for the tibialis anterior (the shin muscle): Sitting with your legs extended in front of you, loop a towel over your toes and push your forefoot against the resistance. Do three sets of 20.

The Injury: Skier's thumb

The Fallen: Downhillers and telemarkers

The Incident: Said skier loses an edge and falls onto an arm that's still clutching a pole. The impact yanks the thumb outward, rupturing the ulnar collateral ligament.

The Workout: Improve grip strength by squeezing a tennis ball throughout the day. Regain flexibility and mobility by looping a rubber band over thumb and forefinger and repeatedly extend the thumb against the resistance. This injury doesn't have the juicy potential for hot-tub war stories that a blown knee has, but hey, there's only so much glory to go around.

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