Injured on my ski holiday: what are my next steps?

Skier wearing goggles and helmet on a slope with blue sky

If you’ve returned from a skiing holiday with an injury that’s causing you discomfort, you’re probably considering what you should do next. Seeking treatment to help your recovery will not only ease your pain now, it will help prevent future complications and further injury.

Proactive management of your ski injury is key to a successful and quick recovery. Dr Ade Adejuwon, Consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine at King Edward VII’s Hospital, is on hand to help you understand the best ways to look after yourself if you’ve returned from the slopes with an injury.

Should I be concerned about my ski injury?

Ski injuries can affect many different areas of the body, in particular the knees, ankles and wrists. Each one is approached and managed differently, depending on the site of the injury and how severe it is.

Not all injuries are critical and in some cases you may be able to return to the slopes. However, there are genuine risks of prolonged recovery and limited function, if an injury is left unchecked without a confirmed diagnosis and recovery plan.

ACL, MCL tears and sprains

Tearing or rupturing your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial (inside of knee) collateral ligament (MCL) are common ski injuries, and becoming increasingly more so. This increase could be linked to advancements in ski boots and bindings, that do more to protect the ankles, but with an unfortunate effect of risking injury further up the leg at the knee during a sudden severe twisting movement.

These types of ligament damage can cause pain and swelling around the knee and limit the normal range of movement of your knee.

If you have a minor ligament sprain (pain but you’re still able to put weight through the joint and walk), you can manage your injury by resting and regularly applying ice (no more than 15 minutes at a time). If you can, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, will also help reduce the pain and any swelling.

But if your pain is severe, has not cleared up on its own or is limiting your movement, you may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist, sports physician or orthopaedic surgeon. Recovery will likely involve a period of rest and possibly using crutches to take the load off the injured leg.

If your knee ligament injury is minor, once you feel able, exercising to get your strength back is one of the best ways to help prevent further injury for when you return to skiing.

If you’ve had physiotherapy or surgery to your knee, your specialist will be able to inform you of the best exercises to do to both help your recovery and strengthen your knee to help prevent further injury. They will be best placed to advise when you can return to the slopes.

In some cases a knee brace is recommended to help further protect your knee when you return to skiing.

Clavicle (collarbone) fractures and other shoulder injuries

Physiotherapist with patient on yoga mat stretching

Falling awkwardly when skiing can result in a range of shoulder related injuries.

A common shoulder injury sustained during a fall on the slopes is a fractured clavicle, or collarbone. This type of injury usually results in immediate and severe pain, accompanied by swelling and bruising around the collarbone. The pain may also extend into the shoulder and arms.

Resting the arm and shoulder of the affected side will help the injury heal. Often, using a sling to take the pressure off the collarbone is advised, which will force you to fully rest the arm and shoulder.

Applying ice on a regular basis and taking over-the-counter painkillers, if you’re able to, will also help.

If your pain continues, you’ll benefit from a course of physiotherapy to help ease the pain, increase the freedom of movement and strengthen the affected area. Your physiotherapist will be able to advise when you’re able to start using your arm normally, and when would be best for you to start skiing again.

Dislocating your shoulder is another common ski injury, usually caused by falling while skiing at a high speed and landing on your side. A dislocated shoulder will cause extreme pain within the shoulder straight away. This pain may extend into the arm and upper back and the shoulder joint will be difficult to move and probably have an odd appearance.

If you dislocate your shoulder while skiing, you should seek urgent medical help to have it manipulated back into place. Your arm will then be placed in a sling to help keep the whole area rested.

Once home, you should rest your arm and shoulder as much as possible. Shoulder dislocations can be frustratingly slow to heal and depending on your injury, you may be given a splint to aid your recovery.

Your shoulder, and the damaged surrounding tissue, will require physiotherapy to properly heal. Your physiotherapy team will be able to advise strengthening exercises to help prevent further injury and work with you to ensure you’re able to return to all your usual activities.

Wrist fractures

Fractures to the wrists are another common ski injury, usually caused by reaching out your arms as you fall. The wrist joint takes the impact of the fall and can fracture, causing pain, bruising and swelling.

Minor sprains will feel better given rest and regular ice treatment. Taking painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, if you can tolerate them, will help to ease pain. You can usually get a wrist splint from a pharmacy that will give it rest and support while it’s painful.

More severe wrist injuries/fractures will require a plaster cast to hold the bones in position while they heal. Once your plaster cast comes off, you’ll benefit from a course of physiotherapy/hand therapy to prepare for going back to work or on your next ski trip.

Returning with a ski injury

As with many medical problems, the sooner you seek medical attention for a ski injury, the better. Particularly in the case of a fractured bone, delaying treatment can cause the bones to fuse back together in the wrong way.

This can lead to further pain and/or reduced functionality of the affected area.

If your pain continues or swelling gets worse, it’s important to seek medical advice as your injury could be more serious than you thought.

Getting back to the slopes

The best way to prevent new or further injuries while skiing is to be prepared. This means visiting the slopes in a fit physical condition, and taking any advice from your doctor, physiotherapist or surgeon. Just like with any exercise, warming up before hitting the slopes is crucial to preventing injuries.

More information

  • If you have a ski related injury and are keen to return to the slopes as soon as possible, talk to your GP in the first instance (Don’t have a GP?)
  • If you would like to see a specialist immediately, we have leading specialists in Sports and Exercise Medicine and Trauma and Orthopaedics.
  • At King Edward VII’s Hospital, we also have a dedicated Physiotherapy Department that helps patients recover from skiing injuries and get them back to what they love doing.