No Surgery, No Problem: Skiing After an ACL Injury Like a Pro

©istockphoto/VisualCommunicationsTearing an ACL is an avid skier or snowboarder’s worst nightmare (falling squarely behind “getting caught in an avalanche”), but it isn’t the end of the world. If you elected to forego surgery, you have a unique but doable challenge ahead of you for the the season.

What’s the difference between someone who chose to have surgery vs. someone who didn’t? Well, the answer depends upon the person and this article isn’t here to tell you that you shouldn’t get surgery. Research does shows that a person if perfectly capable of skiing with a partially (or even fully torn ACL) however, there are a variety a factors that determine just how painful skiing will be for you and if your knee with remain stable and if this is even a good idea.

The good thing about the stability factor, as you probably know from your extensive physical therapy, is that you can strengthen the muscles around your knee thus, giving your knee greater stability overall. Can it still go out? Absolutely. But cultivating stability and strength are your best weapons against knee pain, swelling, and collapse. Here’s how to do it.

Hike, Bike, Squat, and Yoga
With the season ramping up, chances are you’ve been working out in preparation. A few of the best exercises for building knee strength and stability are hiking, biking, squats, and yoga. These activities are lower body intensive (except for yoga which can be all-body intensive) and can be tweaked to focus on building your quads, ankle strength, and calf muscles. The stronger your legs are, overall, the more stable your knee will be.

Focus on Stability and Strength
Other workouts that promote stability and strength include lunges and squats utilizing a Bosu ball, wall-sits, and calf-raises. Try to incorporate these into your workout routine 3-4 days a week and you will reap the benefits come ski season.

Return Confident but Cautious
Ok, so you do 100 squats a day, leg press 200 lbs, and bike 30 miles to and from work. Congratulations, you’re a beast. And, chances are, your knee is gonna do just fine when you’re bombing runs this winter. But keep in mind that there are no guarantees. If you didn’t have surgery, then there is still a portion of your ACL that is scared and, as such, less elastic and functional if it was a partial tear. If you sustained a full tear, then you run even more risk for instability. As such, you should return to skiing confident in your abilities, but cautious when it comes to the swift, cutting motions that it usually takes to tree ski, huck cliffs, and murder moguls.

Ease into the season. See how you do on the easier runs, then pick up some speed. Steeps, trees, and moguls are gonna be hard, that all their is to it. That doesn’t mean you can’t try them, that just means you should be prepared for possible discomfort and even instability.

Brace If Needed
There are some amazing braces on the market specifically for skiers. Ask your orthopedic specialist or surgeon to recommend one. Chances are they will have a brace-rep come and fit you on the spot. If your knee feels unstable or causes you pain, then brace. There’s no shame or harm in it.

No “Idiot’s Run”
There’s a term that floats around amongst snowboarder’s and skiers called “The Idiot’s Run”. Essentially, it refers to the last run of the day when your legs are toast and you know you really should call it quits but, instead, you go for one more ripping session just to spite yourself and the mountain.

This is all well and good for someone with healthy knees (Who is in their early 20s and is still invincible) but, for someone with an injured knee, this is probably one of the worst choices you can make on the mountain. Pushing yourself is important. It makes you better. But the idiot’s run doesn’t improve your skills, it just gets you hurt. So, once your legs are shot and you start to feel your form go, call it a day and hit the bar.

Cheers to healthy knees and a snowy season!