The 3 Most Common Ski Injuries to Avoid This Ski Season

The snow is flying and the ski season in Utah is off to an awesome start! And while the thought of an epic powder day is enough to keep us up at night, the last thought on our minds when the avalanche bombs go off in the early morning hours is about getting injured on the slopes.

Unfortunately, common ski injuries are just that – common. All it takes is one awkward turn, one caught edge or one yard sale to turn a powder hound into a couch potato. 

And while some ski injuries can be avoided by limiting non-variable risk factors, such as your gear, fitness level and recognizing your own limits, some risk factors are completely out of your control. Unless you can figure out a way to have perfect snow conditions, great visibility and empty slopes, you’re bound to run into mountain hazards every time you step into your skis.

So, while these and other risk factors are the main causes of ski injuries, it’s also important to understand the signs and symptoms of the most common ski injuries. 

ACL vs MCL Tears

In the battle of common knee injuries from skiing, ACL and MCL tears are the top contenders. While ACL tears and MCL tears differ in terms of severity and recovery, both injuries leave the knee unstable. 

What is an ACL?

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) cross to form a stabilizing “X” inside the knee joint. The ACL stretches diagonally in the middle of the knee, providing rotational stability and helping control back and forth movement.

Causes, Signs and Symptoms of an ACL Tear

One of the most common ski injuries, an ACL tear can be caused by stopping suddenly, quickly changing direction, landing a jump awkwardly or from a collision with a tree, lift tower or another skier. 

The tell-tale sign of an ACL tear is an audible pop followed by painful swelling. While most people are able to walk with a torn ACL, there will be discomfort as well as a loss of full range of motion and tenderness in the joint. 

What is an MCL?

The MCL (medial collateral ligament) connects your femur (thighbone) to your tibia (shinbone). Along with the LCL, or lateral collateral ligament, that connects the femur to the fibula (the smaller bone in the lower leg), the MCL helps control the sideways movement of the knee. In short, the MCL and LCL help stabilize your knee. 

Causes, Signs and Symptoms of an MCL Tear

MCL tears are usually caused by a direct impact to the outside of the knee that pushes the knee inward. 

While an MCL tear will not cause a “pop” like an ACL tear, an MCL injury will cause pain on the inside of the knee and considerable swelling. MCL tears cause noticeable knee instability and can feel like the knee is going to give way. 

Learn more about ACL vs MCL tears and other knee injuries and treatments.

Shoulder Dislocation

Another common ski injury, a dislocated shoulder can be extremely painful. Unfortunately, once you dislocate a shoulder, the weakened joint is prone to more dislocations from lessening forces. 

What is a Dislocated Shoulder?

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) pops out of the glenoid (shoulder socket). The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body – making it more vulnerable to injury and relatively easy to dislocate. 

Causes, Signs and Symptoms of a Dislocated Shoulder

As our inclination is to reach out and catch ourselves as we fall, many skiers dislocate their shoulders purely by following their natural instincts. 

Thanks in part to the mobility of the shoulder joint, the shoulder can dislocate forward, backward or downward, depending on the dislocation. Common signs and symptoms of a dislocation included swelling, bruising, intense pain, a visibly out-of-place shoulder, weakness, numbness and an inability to move the joint. 

Learn more about shoulder dislocations and other shoulder injuries and treatments.

Skier’s Thumb

A common ski injury but largely unknown to most skiers, Skier’s Thumb can happen to experience and novice skiers alike.

What is Skier’s Thumb?

Skier’s Thumb is an injury or tear to the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) – a ligament more often seen in elbow injuries. The UCL runs from the inside of the elbow to the hand, and an injury to the ligament can affect thumb function.

Causes, Signs and Symptoms of Skier’s Thumb

Most skiers suffer a UCL injury when falling on an outstretched hand with a ski pole still in the palm of the hand. This force stresses the ligament by bending the thumb backward and/or sideways, causing it to sprain or tear. 

Common signs of a UCL injury include pain at the base of the thumb, swelling, discoloration, soreness, weakened grip and instability while holding objects. 

Learn more about UCL injuries and other hand injuries and treatments.  

If you have any questions about a ski injury or any other orthopedic condition, please feel free to contact us. We’re here to help.

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