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!