Avoid injury, shred harder and stay healthy this ski season
By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – “This is an ACL tear that’s waiting to happen.” A phrase no skier or rider wants to hear. It’s an issue Lone Peak Physical Therapy’s Heidi Bowman DPT, CAFS, and Allie Poalino, DPT, are attempting to address before incident with their Ski Mobility and Stability clinics.
There are three elements Bowman says are crucial to preventing injuries, while staying nimble and active throughout the season: Take care of old injuries, aim for symmetry and train for the unexpected.
Caring for your old injuries and addressing your body’s weaknesses will prevent further harm once you hit the slopes. Bowman says a majority of the time athletes focus too much on their strengths. If you’re strong, you’re more likely to strength train, while if you’re flexible you might enjoy yoga more. While we thrive on our successes, she says cross training is absolutely essential.
“Address old injuries,” Poalino said. “Because, so much of the time those old lingering things really have an effect on how you move going forward.”
This is where a couple visits to a physical therapist will help. LPPT provides “ski screens” as part of their clinic, in which they’ll identify where in your body needs extra training.
“We are movement experts and our job is to identify areas you need to address,” Bowman said. “Sometimes it is screening an old injury, sometimes it’s faulty movement patterns we can help correct before it leads to an injury.”
Screenings will usually result in two or three exercises for individuals to focus on, in order to address weaknesses and pay dividends in the long run.
Although there is no magic number regarding the range of motion an individual needs in each joint to avoid potential injury, you will be more prone to one if you don’t maintain a healthy level of symmetry. LPPT knows from experience—they work closely with seasoned ski patrollers and racers on ski movement exercises to aid in maintaining symmetrical strength.
“Generally we screen hip and thoracic motion, because ski turns require good movement at these joints,” Bowman said. “When these areas don’t move well, your knees and low back are more at risk for injury because they take up the slack and move extra.”
Bowman and Poalino also screen single leg strength, side to side with a timed split squat to measure control and endurance and determine if you favor one leg over the other, as many do. Although every routine is catered to the individual and they will sometimes recommend additional strength training—such as additional squat reps—on one leg as opposed to the other to even out that symmetry. They’ll also make good use of the 1080 Quantum resistance machine—often only found at private pro-athlete training facilities—to gauge a patient’s symmetry and mobility.
Finally, LPPT trains their athletes for the unexpected. Anyone who has skied for a few seasons knows that hitting unexpected terrain, an obstacle, or unintentionally overturning is a common occurrence on the hill, so training your body to react quickly and safely to those instances will prevent serious injuries. Bowman’s favorite piece of equipment for this is the BOSU ball, an inflated half-ball with a flat surface on one side, making it perfect for balance exercises.
“We are able to train for unpredictability, because skiing is so much of that,” Bowman said. “Where you are thrown into weird terrain and your body has to be like ‘I got this, I know how to do this.’”
Anterior cruciate ligament tears, most commonly known as ACL, are the most common ski injury they see at LPPT, and a painful, costly and time consuming one at that. When dealing with an injury, the most difficult thing is having have to tell an athlete that they can no longer do something they love. Instead, LPPT staff members focus on little goals as patients progress towards getting back on the mountain.
“We like to focus on the mini goals throughout that process,” Poalino said. “Say they’re not skiing this year, but they’re able to squat a certain amount of weight at the gym and they’re able to go on their favorite hike. Little things that, they enjoy that we can get them back to.”
Overall, people in Big Sky value their health and time outdoors—it’s a part of the area’s identity. Bowman and Poalino have seen many new inquiries in recent months as people have moved, staying permanently in the area.
“I think people are placing more focus on their health and their body just with everything going on,” Bowman said. “I think it’s a positive for the community for sure.”