With Easter falling late this year, many people will be taking advantage by hitting the slopes over the next few weeks.
But if you suffer from arthritis in your knees, is that a bad idea?
The very short answer is: no, not necessarily. Of the thousands of ski fans heading for the hills this April, you can bet that a fair number will be doing so with worn and painful knees. So it’s not unusual to mix skiing with arthritis.
But of course there are limits. So how can you judge them?
Here are five quick questions to consider…
How bad is your pain?
Skiing obviously puts pressure on your knees. The classic legs-bent position channels weight through your Gluteus Maximus, your hamstrings, your quadriceps – and inevitably also your knee joint. While this makes for a great lower body workout, it may also mean more inflammation and pain if arthritis is already present in your joints. That’s not to say you’ll do huge damage to your knees if you ski. But you could cause more wear. So the question is, how bad is the pain? This is something only you can answer (see also point 3, below). If severe, it’s probably time to avoid skiing. If manageable, you may feel it’s worth going ahead. As we sometimes say in clinic, if you can do it – do it.
Where is your arthritis?
The thing about arthritis pain and skiing is that it differs vastly from person to person. We’ve seen patients who can’t walk half a mile without problems; put them on a ski slope, however, and they can go the whole day without pain. This is really due to where the arthritis is located in the knee. In skiing, much of your weight goes through the patellofemoral joint, where the thighbone and kneecap meet. If this part of the joint is not too badly affected, you could find that you’re reasonably pain-free on the piste.
Could you test it out?
Other than crouching in your living room while watching Ski Sunday, there’s really only one way to find out if your knees will cope with a week’s skiing: go skiing. Sounds a little obvious, doesn’t it? But of course there is a simple, short-form option. Indoor and dry slope skiing is a good way to remind your joints what they’ll be facing – but in controlled conditions where you aren’t over-committing yourself. This well-regarded slope near Southampton is just one local example. Regular indoor skiing is also an excellent way to build up the key skiing muscles, and your all-round fitness, before you head for the mountains.
Could you take it easier?
If pain becomes an issue when you’re on holiday, make sure you listen to what your body is telling you. In the short term you could use some cold compresses to reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen may also help, if you can take it. But also think about building in more rest time than you would normally. Go for an early lunch. Take a breather before jumping back on the ski lift. Swap the more challenging runs for something gentler. Drop your speed a few notches. As the famous snowsports filmmaker Warren Miller once put it: “There are only so many moguls in any given knee.”
Do you know your limits?
Our capacity for sport and exercise changes through life. What we’re capable of at 27 isn’t necessarily what we can handle at 57, or following an injury. So part of the answer to skiing with arthritis is mental: to have an alert sense of your own ability so you don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. Remember to take care in the late season, as temperatures begin to rise. This changes the make-up of the snow, which we find often leads to a jump in knee-related injuries – a point we made in our last blog [please add link when live]. Bad skiing injuries are relatively rare, thankfully. But if you’re skiing with arthritis, it pays to be cautious.
Concerned about skiing with arthritis? We’re always happy to take a look at your knees and offer advice. You can make an appointment easily on our booking page.