As the pandemic eases, many of us are beginning to think about venturing abroad again on holiday. And for skiers, that means the prospect of heading to the slopes for the first time in many months. Here at Chris Bailey Orthopaedics, we’ve certainly noticed an uptick in questions and requests for advice about skiing from patients.
If you’re an alpine enthusiast who is facing a knee replacement, though, skiing prompts some more fundamental questions. Is it actually OK to ski on an artificial knee? Or does it effectively mean the end of the road for your winter sports ambitions? Here are some thoughts.
The short answer
The in-a-nutshell answer is that it is possible to ski on an artificial knee implant – though of course every patient is different, and everything will depend on your own particular circumstances. As a general rule, experienced skiers may be able to ski again after a knee replacement. But that comes with some caveats.
It’s important to be realistic about your knee implant. Knee replacement is primarily aimed at addressing the constant, grating pain from an arthritic knee joint and helping you to become more mobile again. It’s not primarily aimed at getting you back on the black runs at Les Arcs. An artificial knee doesn’t have the same endurance and comfort levels of a healthy natural joint. This means that intensive running or extreme sports are probably not going to be possible. Knee replacement is also major surgery that takes time and perseverance to recover from. Though most people can be back to everyday activities like walking and driving by around the six-week mark, full recovery can take six months to a year or more. So it’s wise not to rush yourself back to intense physical activity.
Understand the risks
If you’re a regular skier, you’ll know that skiing puts a lot of strain on the knees – and of course that applies to artificial joints too, which will in time wear out with use, requiring replacement. The biggest risk that skiing poses to a knee implant, though, is damage from a fall. A study based around 7,000 young skiers and snowboarders in Austria over a season found that 87% of all the injuries that occurred were caused by “self-inflicted falls” (they also found that knees were, far and away, the most common location for those injuries). Heavy falls can cause fractures – and fractures, while not great news for anyone, can be especially problematic for artificial knees. The weakest point tends to be the bone along the implant edges, and this kind of “periprosthetic” fracture is often complicated to fix; it can even mean a new replacement operation.
So, OK, let’s say you understand the limitations. Does that mean you should, really, give skiing a swerve? Not necessarily. Plenty of knee replacement patients go back to the sport after their ops. Many feel that the sheer joy of skiing outweighs the discomforts and potential risks. If you’re really determined to get back on the slopes again, though, there are lots of things you can do to help your new knee when you get there:
Build yourself up – protect your knees by strengthening the muscles that support them; for skiing, it’s important to build strength in the hips, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps long before you fly out
Do some dry runs – it’s not just about strength but balance and anticipation too. Consider booking some sessions at a local ski run (locally we have Alpine Snowsports in Southampton and Snowtrax in Dorset, for example) to gently test your new joint and reacquaint yourself with the demands of skiing
Start on the flats – when you do get out to the resort, test yourself on flat surfaces before attempting downhills. Get a feel for the surfaces and the conditions on the ground. If you feel unsure, don’t put yourself under pressure to do more
Interested in reading more about skiing and how you can protect your knees from injury? You’ll find more tips and recommendations about how to keep yourself safe on the slopes in this article, Two classic ski injuries – and how to avoid them
If you’re thinking about skiing after a knee replacement, always make sure you take advice from your doctor or surgeon before you go. If you’d like to make an appointment here with Mr Bailey, please drop us a line on 01962 826107. Or you can book a slot right now through our website. We’ll be really glad to help you.