The UK’s bourgeoning ski market will see an estimated 1.5 million Brits 1 hit the slopes this season, but more than a third of those (36%) are suspected to come home injured.
Whether it’s due to not taking a class before heading to the slopes, failing to purchase the right safety equipment, or taking on too big a challenge, the risk of injury is high, with research finding almost a fifth (19%) of British skiers sustaining serious injuries, including broken bones, pulled ligaments and concussion. 2
These figures, along with the news that Swiss Olympic champion Sandro Viletta has been forced to call it quits on his Alpine career after twice rupturing knee ligaments, poses the question: Is skiing really worth the risk?
Experts suggest that the worrying trend is a result of people taking on new challenges without the required training, or returning to the sport ill-equipped after a long hiatus or injury.
Mr Kumar Kunasingam, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Ramsay Health Care UK, who sees many broken bones, fractures and dislocations from ski holidays, is urging people to listen to their bodies this season. He said: “We live in a world of increasing opportunity and access to fitness and sport, regardless of age, ability or baseline fitness. If you feel pain, it’s not right and you should slow down or stop and seek medical advice.”
Research carried out by Ramsay Health Care UK found that 70% of people over 55 have required medical attention due to sports-related injuries. Mr Kunasingam continued: “Simple problems can be solved quickly with an accurate medical diagnosis and intervention. If left, small problems can become much worse and lead to stopping activity all together. Unfortunately, injury is unpreventable at any level and the important thing is to always listen to your body.”
The announcement that champion skier Lindsey Vonn will return to the sport this January is a timely reminder of the realities of recovery. The American star missed several seasons, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, due to injury and has been going through intensive rehabilitation and physio ever since.
Mr Kunasingam added: “The key to recovery is seeking swift expert advice. At Ramsay Health Care UK, we have a team of medical professionals in this field, including specialist musculoskeletal radiologists and expert physiotherapists who work together to formulate a bespoke recovery plan.”
Sher Meekings, 61, is now back to her former athletic self following a life-changing skiing injury in France. When another skier crashed into the back of her on the slopes, Sher fell awkwardly and tore all the ligaments from her knee joint. She said: “It was a very scary injury and I was devastated. The consultant said that, with an injury like mine, I may struggle with day-to day function, let alone sports.”
She had two operations under Ramsay Health Care UK to repair her PCL, MCL, and later her ACL. 3 Between the two operations, Sher worked alongside Ramsay’s physiotherapists to help her get back to full health emotionally and physically, and she also benefitted from hydrotherapy sessions. “It’s been a long road to recovery, but thanks to the operations and intense physiotherapy, I’ve almost made a full recovery and will be able to return to running once again.”
Now, two years on, Sher is back to an excellent level of function and sporting ability, surpassing even her surgeon’s expectations. She said: “I am a real advocate of fitness in old age and I was not going to let this stop me. The older you get, you have to honour your body. You have to listen to it and be kind to yourself.”
Whether you’re a seasoned skier or a novice, looking after your body inside and out is essential while skiing. Follow our key advice for staying safe on the slopes this season.
Skiing uses muscles you don’t use in everyday life, regardless of how active you are, so it’s crucial to eat and drink wisely while in the mountains to help your body repair your muscles each night:
- Being active at a high altitude increases our metabolic rate, meaning our bodies should be fuelled with plenty of fats and protein, preferably in the same meal, to slow down the release of energy throughout the day – you also need slow-release, low-GI carbs (whole grains rather than white)
- The best time to get these into your body is morning: porridge with honey; fruit and granola; whole grain toast and poached eggs; and avocado on toast are all good choices
- The best thing to opt for when you return from skiing is a protein-based snack to repair muscles as it reduces soreness for the next day – these include yoghurt-based smoothies or a sandwich with lean meats, eggs or low-fat cheese
Sunblock is essential when skiing as sunlight is reflected off the snow and onto your skin. Even on one of the UK’s cloudiest days, the sun’s rays will still be present, so choosing the right sunblock is key.
Your skin needs protecting from both ultraviolet B (UVB) rays as well as ultraviolet A (UVA) rays as both are linked to skin cancer. UVB rays are responsible for skin reddening and sunburn, and are the main culprit for premature ageing. UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin and are responsible for tanning.
When choosing a sunblock, look for out for the SPF factor and UVA rating. The SBF factor, from 2 to 50+, is the amount the cream will protect your skin from UBV rays. The scale tells you how much longer your skin can be in the sun without responding to it. For example, if you normally burn after 30 minutes without sunscreen, an SPF 30 will protect you for 30 times longer, which is 15 hours. A minimum of SPF 30 is recommended for skiers. The protection from UVA rays is measured in star rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best.
It’s also essential to choose water-resistant cream while on the slopes. This means every time you fall over, sweat into your goggles, or pull off your layers for lunch, your sun cream will stay put.
While many of us wouldn’t let our children ski without a helmet, it is something we often neglect when it comes to ourselves. Wearing a helmet is essential, first and foremost to prevent the severity of head injury. While it might not always prevent head injury, it can make a significant difference to the outcome as head trauma can often be life altering.
As well as keeping you safe, wearing a helmet is a great way to help you stay warm and comfortable as it traps in body heat known to escape through the head, and also serves to keep goggles in place.
It’s essential to triple-check you have the right kind of insurance before you set off on your ski holiday if you don’t want to end up with an eye-watering medical bill. Research from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office found that 33% of British skiers did not have adequate snow sports insurance for the activities they planned to do on holiday.4
For example, many insurers may cover you for skiing in the resort, but not for going off-piste or other activities such as sledging. Even a relatively minor injury, such as a broken ankle or twisted knee, can cost upwards of £15,000 once mountain rescue is factored in.
The EHIC card, which 27 million UK citizens rely on while holidaying in Europe, covers medically necessary treatment in the European Union until your planned return home. However, it is not an alternative to travel insurance and does not cover private medical costs, including mountain rescue. With Brexit looming, this is a safety blanket that may not be in place much longer. As it stands, the UK and the EU have reached an agreement in principle, meaning that if a Brexit deal goes through, there will be a transition period until 31 December 2020 where EU law will continue to apply to UK citizens, and the EHIC card will still be accepted. However, after this, the rights enjoyed by the EHIC card will cease to exist.
Warming up properly before skiing not only helps prevent injury, but also improves performance while you’re on the slopes and improves circulation. As easy as it may be to head to the lifts with just a hot coffee in your system, think again. Cold muscles and joints are proven to be more prone to injury than cold ones.
A good warm-up is essential. It can feel great and needn’t take more than 10 minutes with these easy exercises.
Sally Mirtle, a senior musculoskeletal physiotherapist at Ashtead Hospital, Ramsay Health Care UK, recommends a series of warm-up exercises to help prevent injury while skiing. These are Sally’s choices.
Arm circles: Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart, raise arms to the side, keeping elbows extended, and slowly rotate arms forward making a circle. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
Hip rotations: Place your hands on your hips and circle your hips around, keeping your torso straight. Circle 10 times one way and 10 times the other way.
Leg swings: Hold onto a support, keep your torso upright, and gently swing one leg forward and back like a pendulum. Repeat 20 times each leg.
Knee lifts: Stand with support if needed and lift one knee to your chest to tap your opposite hand. Alternate knee lifts 20 times on each side.
Mini squats: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and lower your bottom a small way as if sitting on a chair, and slowly return to start position. Repeat 20 times.
Calf pumps: Stand and lean onto a support with your knees straight. Alternate calf pumps, lifting one foot to tip toe and, as you lower down, lift the other leg to tip toe. Repeat 20 times.
About Sally Mirtle BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy MCSP
Sally qualified as a physiotherapist in 2005 and, since graduating, has gained comprehensive experience in treating musculoskeletal and sports injuries in a variety of clinical settings, both NHS and privately. She spent more than four years working in a sports injury clinic in Australia and also worked with a semi-professional rugby union team. It was here she developed an interest in women’s health and underwent further training in incontinence, prolapse and pre and postnatal physiotherapy. She has also completed her Pilates and acupuncture training, which can be used as an adjunct to treatment. Sally likes to not only treat the injury, but takes a holistic approach to help prevent future reoccurrences.
<1>According to LHM Conseil
<2> Survey of 4,544 GB adults was conducted by YouGov between the 16th and 19th February 2018 – of which a sample of 809 were winter sports holidaymakers.
<3> Sher had surgery to repair her Posterior Cruciate Ligment, Medial Collateral Ligament and her Anterior Cruciate Ligament
Where next? Find out how Dani Hill-Welter trained for multiple endurance challenges HERE