Every year thousands of people flock to the pristine winter slopes in Niseko, seeking out that famous powder. If you are one of the lucky ones who is planning on doing the same this season, a gentle reminder that along with the abundance of snow, the beautiful views and the delicious ramen comes the risk of injuries, aches and pains. These injuries can range from simple to severe, especially when it comes to the most common injury that we see in our studio: the ankle injury.
Research estimates that approximately 3.8 million people suffer a winter sports injury in the United States every year. Of those 3.8 million, approximately 900,000 or 25% are injuries related to ankles. Ankle injuries happen because of a trip or fall – which is more prevalent when participating in winter sports. So prevalent in fact, that a fracture of the talus bone (located in the ankle) is commonly referred to as snowboarder’s ankle. A mild sprain needs little more than an ice pack and elevation; however, it is important to get it assessed by a qualified physio to rule out anything more serious. In comparison, fractures generally need a cast and six-eight weeks of healing with a period of immobilisation. In either case, the injury will result in time off the slopes and limit your enjoyment.
Generally, a majority of these ankle injuries can be prevented by following a pre winter ankle training regime which can take between 5-10 minutes a day. If you embrace the cold and want to shred that powder for as long as possible, injury prevention is essential. To help avoid suffering a debilitating ankle injury, follow my simple 5 step exercise program. Do this every morning and evening in the time leading up to your trip and it will help reduce the risk of an ankle injury ruining your holiday.
The first 2 exercises are to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle, exercises 3-4 are to aid ankle flexibility and exercise 5 is to help improve balance. With all strengthening exercises, start with 2 sets of 15 exercises and increase steadily to 3 sets of 20 before using the suggested progressions. For stretches and balance exercise’s, hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat twice.
- Heel Raises
Sit as upright as you can in your seat and place your feet together and gently press against the floor. Inhale for 4 counts and feel your ribcage expanding laterally. Exhale for 4 counts and feel your ribcage closing and moving closer towards your pelvis. Repeat for 6 reps.
Heel raises are a favourite of mine: simply because they work!
Start by performing on both legs. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees straight as you raise your heels up off the floor as high as you can. Return your heels slowly to the floor and repeat.
To progress: perform on a step, with the heels unsupported. You can increase the range of motion and difficulty by allowing the heels to drop below the level of the step. Progress further by performing on a single leg, firstly on the floor, and then on a step. Then progress to doing these exercises maintaining a slightly bent knee to target the smaller of the two calf muscles the soleus.
Hopping is excellent for dynamic strength- which is required repeatedly when skiing or snowboarding. Stand on one leg and hop from this leg, onto the other in a forward direction.
To progress: Hop higher and further forwards. To progress further, hop off one leg and land on the same leg. You can then vary the direction going forwards, sideways and backwards.
- Gastrocnemius Stretch
The gastrocnemius is the largest of the two calf muscles covering the smaller soleus. To stretch this muscle, hold the following position for 30 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretching sensation in the back of the back leg. As this fades, move further into the stretch.
- Soleus Stretch
The soleus is the muscle which lies underneath gastrocnemius. To target soleus, you must bend the knee. Stand with one leg in front of the other close to a wall. You can place your hands on the wall and lean forward. Bend both knees as if trying to touch the front knee on the wall. Keep the back heel down and you should feel a stretch low down in the calf.
- Balance Exercise
In order to avoid injury, the ankle must work intrinsically to help maintain the bodies balance.
Stand on one leg and balance for as long as you can, unaided.
To progress: this place a pillow under the standing leg.
Further progress by standing on one leg and placing your other leg as far out in-front of you as possible. This marks 12 on the clock. With your leg still fully stretched out move it through the numbers on the clock trying to also rotate your body to get to 9. Repeat this maintaining a slight bend in the standing leg.
This exercises program if done daily and progressed with time will help prevent injury and increase your time on the slopes. However, sometimes, despite every effort, accidents do happen. When that happens, the first step is to find the best treatment and advice for your injury. You can find this at Focus Physio where we can help you on your rehabilitation journey.
Quentin Babs, Physiotherapist (Focus Physio, Niseko)