Winter is coming… sorry Game of Thrones fans, we’re actually referring to ski season and a totally different variety of snow. So for those readying to carve out some fresh powder, now would be a good time to start preparing for the piste! But between conditioning your body, and brushing up on your ski technique, you may also be debating whether a knee brace for skiing is right for you. So, we thought we would weigh in on the debate before you hop on that chairlift.
Leaving Us Vulnerable to Injury
Each year, thousands of skiers hit the slopes to take in the breathtaking views and experience the exhilaration that comes with the popular winter sport. But the posture, motion and speed required for skiing can leave us vulnerable to injury if not adequately prepared for or executed. Lower body injuries are most common, but risk of damage to the knee joint is particularly prevalent, accounting for about 40% of all ski-related injuries, including ligament damage and knee dislocations. And even though recreational skiers are more susceptible to injury than the elite, knee brace for skiing remains relevant to anyone who already suffers from a knee injury (generally, a hinged brace would be used) or who want to avoid exacerbating a knee condition such as arthritis (a neoprene sleeve may be more suitable here).
Common Ski-Related Knee Injuries
A MCL injury typically occurs with a twist of the knee. Most prone to MCL injury are beginner and intermediate skiers as they often adopt the snow-plough position (i.e., the skis point inwards) where a widening of the legs or crossing of the skis can cause the skier to fall forward downhill. This leaves the legs vulnerable to twisting too far inward (the very function of the MCL is to prevent this). Even a mild twist can result in painful bruising and swelling.
On the other hand, to cause an ACL injury takes much more force, such as a severe twist of the knee commonly associated with landing a jump in poor form, falling slowly backward, or the phenomenon known as ‘phantom foot’, which occurs when the skier tries to stand to prevent a fall. Some may recognize an audible ‘pop’ when this happens.
A MCL injury does not normally call for surgery, but since the ACL plays a vital role in the stability of the knee, an injury to the ACL often requires surgical reconstruction, especially since an impact strong enough to damage the ACL will likely damage other components of the knee as well.
Ironically, the incidence of both types of injury have increased with the improvement of equipment designed to reduce other injuries, such as ankle sprains and shin fractures, leading to the more regular use of knee brace for skiing. This is irrespective of whether these are worn to protect and stabilize an old knee injury or rehab a more recent one by encouraging the mobilization of the knee, important for restoring movement and muscle strength.
Knee Brace for Acute or Chronic Problems
For the most part, knee brace for skiing is recommended if you suffer from acute or chronic knee problems, but they are thought to do little to prevent injury, at least in isolation. This is particularly so for those who do not already have a knee injury or problematic condition. Though some types of knee brace for skiing are said to provide around 30% more resistance to stresses on the knee, many believe that this would function to prevent future knee ligament damage. Nevertheless, others argue that using a supportive brace would cause the muscles around the knee to become too reliant on the extra support, in turn making them more susceptible to injury.
In any case, a knee injury can ruin a holiday, or take you out of a competition. It can cost you in medical bills, prevent you from working, and take months of rehab. Though braces are not regarded as effective in preventing injury as being otherwise prepared – such as by achieving an adequate level of fitness, mastering good technique, investing in the right equipment and having it checked properly, and knowing when to rest up (amongst myriad others) – there is no doubt that a knee brace for skiing will provide superior protection and stability (and comfort too!) when required for recovery from an injury. The right knee brace, as recommended by a professional, will give you the confidence you need to get you back on that chairlift.