As winter approaches, many people with knee problems request our advice on the best type of brace to support the knee whilst skiing. The answer depends on the type and severity of the problem.
Three of the most common problems affecting the knee;
Knee pain when skiing.
This can be a complex issue but in short, if you are only experiencing knee pain when skiing, then it is most likely that the knees are just not used to this type of activity. Skiing is not like riding a bike, you cannot just stop and start when you wish and expect your body to adapt quickly. Strength is required, not just from the knee joint itself but from the Quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thigh) and the Hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thigh).
It is very important that you embark on a programme of fitness training leading up to your skiing, specifically designed to target these areas. Your local fitness instructor or sports injury specialist will be able to design a programme for you.
If you suffer from painful knee joints at other times, such as walking, going up and down stairs and/or pain at rest, you must consult a medical professional before attempting sports such as skiing.
Do not rely on a knee brace or support to reduce knee pain.
An injured ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)
Commonly found in football and rugby injuries as well as previous skiing accidents, a damaged or previously ruptured ACL means that one of the ligaments situated in the middle of the knee joint, attaching your lower leg to your upper leg has been compromised in some way. This may be a minor strain or a major rupture which has required surgery.
Damage to the ACL can often result in instability, this means that when the knee joint is under pressure, such as walking downhill, down stairs or skiing, it may give way and some people experience this “giving way” even during normal activity.
A medical professional trained in sports injuries can assess the joint to see if there is any instability and will advise you on the level of activity you can safely undertake. For mild strains, strengthening and stability exercises should suffice, but more serious ruptures may mean that you will not be able to ski or snowboard.
In moderate cases, a practitioner will allow you to ski but recommend the use of an appropriate brace. The type of support needed for this purpose is complex and must be specifically designed to limit the movement between the upper and lower leg when the knee is slightly bent. They will be labelled ACL & PCL. A normal neoprene knee support will not suffice.
Damage to the Medial and Lateral Ligaments of the knee.
Again, often football, rugby, squash or skiing related injuries, but this time the ligaments attaching the upper and lower leg bones together on the inside (medial) and outside (lateral) of the knee have been damaged.
As with any ligament injury, the damage can result in instability but this time when the knee is stressed from side to side (exactly as it is in skiing).
If your therapist has advised that you ski using a brace, then you need one that offers medial and lateral support and will be labelled MCL and LCL.
These braces have metal stays or springs on the inside and outside of the knee to support any sideways movement.
Never rely on a brace to compensate for serious joint laxity, if you experience “giving way” of the knee joint during normal activity or mild sporting activity you should never attempt to ski or snowboard. It may be possible that surgery is required to stabilise the knee.
If you are in any doubt about a knee injury and your fitness to ski, please seek medical opinion. This article is not intended to be used for diagnosis of an injury.