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Knees & Skis – Tips on Avoiding Injuries

Most of us live in Alaska because we are drawn to the never-ending mountains and vast terrain. If you are a downhill skier, I am sure you are already dreaming about alpine starts in the backcountry or laughing with friends on the chairlift. Either way, you should also begin tuning into your body as we approach ski season. Have you ever had a knee injury or known a skier who has? Some say that a knee injury is inevitable as a skier.

This most common knee injuries that skiers encounter are ACL, MCL, and meniscus injuries. The second most common are muscle strains, fractures, and patellar dislocations. The knee is composed of two separate joints; the tibiofemoral and patellofemoral, and the knee allows motions in four different directions. In skiing, we rely on movement patterns that are called closed chain movements, since our feet are locked into our skis. That means that we require adequate muscle strength and stability so that our knees don’t take the load. Two-thirds of the lower extremity muscles cross the knee AND the hip or ankle, making it important to cross train the entire kinetic chain.

Risk factors for ACL tears:

  • Gender: There is a 1:1 ratio of males: females who tear their ACLs in recreational downhill skiing
  • Anatomy: Being overweight and having increased joint laxity
  • Hormonal: ACL injuries in women are more likely in the early stages of menstruation
  • Knee brace: There is inconsistent evidence on the effectivity of preventative knee braces
  • Recreational vs Professional: ACL injury is 11x higher in recreational skiiers
  • Time of Day: Most ACL injuries happen after lunch!

Shelby Lee Harris, PT, DPT works with Advanced Physical Therapy in Seward and is an avid skier.

The job of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is to restrain anterior translation of the tibia on the femur, and resist extremes of other motions occurring at the knee. All our ligaments also give vital sensory feedback to our central nervous systems, making balance and agility training of utmost importance to prepare for those big snow days. 70% of ACL tears are non-contact, meaning they happen without crashing into an external force. Of these horrid injuries, 50% of them also involve a meniscal injury. Now, to answer the big question: Can we prevent these injuries? … Unfortunately, we cannot stop the unpredicted risks that accompany skiing, but we can train our bodies to reduce injury risk. Here are some tips to avoid the clash between your knees and your skis! Tune into your body, be safe, and turn your goals into reality.

Body Systems & Components for Skiers:

  • Musculoskeletal: Power, strength, and flexibility
  • Cardiovascular: Endurance & respiratory health
  • Neuromuscular: Balance & agility
  • Psychological: Mental health & confidence
  • Nutritional: Moderation, variety & hydration


  • Squats, lunges, and core work
  • Stay active in the off season! 30 mins moderate aerobic activity 5x per week
  • Stand on one leg with a slightly bent knee, try closing your eyes. Work up to 30 seconds each side. Other agility: trail running, hiking, mountain biking.
  • Depression is very common in ski communities, talk about it, seek help.
  • Online diets are not always sustainable. Watch your portion size, and remember that most knee injuries happen after lunch! Wait until after skiing to enjoy your burger and beer. Eat a smaller lunch.

Shelby Lee Harris, DPT works with Advanced Physical Therapy in Seward.



This Post Has One Comment
  1. Thanks Shelby! I’ve been working through a knee injury not related to skiing in preparation for this winter season. I am constantly amazed at how small changes in routine and diet coupled with minor muscle strengthening exercises have brought me to a point that I am anxiously awaiting snow.

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