A sprained knee, dislocated shoulder or strained muscle doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of your ski season. How quickly you’ll recover from a ski injury depends on its severity, but there are a few rules of thumb for making a safe return to the slopes. Orthopedic surgeon Travis Maak, M.D., of the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center offers his recovery advice.
Listen to your pain. For minor injury, “pain is your biggest indicator of when you can get back to sport,” says Maak. After muscle strains or minor knee sprains, you’re safe to get back to skiing when you have no pain with normal daily activity, usually about two or three weeks. “The most important thing is that your muscles are firing in a normal fashion so you’re not putting yourself at risk for further injury,” he says. To help recovery along, follow RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Tears need more time. Now the bad news — for more serious injuries like a ligament tear or fracture, expect your season to be over. “Going back too soon puts you at risk of falling and re-injury,” says Maak. “If it’s not stable and you further injure it, it can in the long run lead to permanent damage to your knee.” The good news? Even injuries requiring surgery are usually fully healed in time for next season.
Get permission first. “Whenever you’ve seen a doctor for an injury, you should always get clearance to resume the sport,” Maak says. “What you feel just walking around is very different from the stability your knees need at any level of skiing or snowboarding.” That means the pain may abate, but that doesn’t mean your joint has recovered. In such cases, don’t listen to your pain. Listen to your doctor.
Learn a thing or two from physical therapy. Most people follow the instructions of their physical therapist during recovery, and then forget about them when they’re done. For your best chance at preventing re-injury, Maak recommends making those exercises part of your regular routine. “That’s the only thing that’s been shown to inhibit further injury to your joint,” he says.
Be cautious about concussion. You only get one brain, so take care of it. Post-concussion, stay off the slopes until you are completely symptom-free for seven or more days. That means no more vision changes, headaches, neck pain or numbness, even when you’re engaging in activities that elevate your heart rate.
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