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Aching back, torn ACL, or stiff shoulder? You’re not alone. Take tips from three pro skiers who’ve learned a thing or two about injury prevention and recovery.
ALEISHA CLINE ON BACK PAIN
Winter X Games gold medalist Aleisha Cline suffered debilitating back pain that sidelined her from competition. “It was the constant pounding in the skiercross and heavy training,” Cline says. “I’m also tall, so there is a lot of leverage on my lower back.”
>Rehab: After some initial time off, Cline habitually visited a chiropractor and massage therapist, focusing on fixing small pains before they got bigger. “I continue to work on flexibility and core strength. The chiropractor and acupuncturist help too,” she says.
>Prevention: “Listen to your body. There is a difference between ‘feeling the hurt’ when you train and hurting yourself. It can be a fine line,” Cline says. She also suggests working with a trainer and focusing on core work year-round.
>Expert Opinion: “Research has shown that 90 percent of people suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives,” says Laurie Wohlt, a physical therapist at Vail, Colorado’s Howard Head Sports Medicine Clinic. “Skiers are especially vulnerable because they focus on building strong legs and ignore their core. Make sure you’re tightening the deepest level of muscles.”
JESSICA SOBOLOWSKI ON A TORN ACL
Film skier Jessica Sobolowski ended her season with an ACL tear in 2006. “It was a powder day and I was filming in Alta, Utah,” she says. “All the airs there eject you like a cannonball, so I was trying to make the takeoff as smooth as possible and wrecked my ACL on the landing.”
>Rehab: Sobolowski underwent surgery for a new ACL, opting to use a graft from a cadaver tendon to speed up her recovery. “I went to physical therapy for two months, at first just getting my range of motion back. Afterward, I did weight training and plyometric drills,” she says.
>Prevention: “I had not stretched that morning and did not take a warmup run. I was antsy to just enjoy the new snow. That was a mistake,” she says. “You also need to train your quads and IT band to help your knee track smoothly. If your IT band is tight, it’s not going to protect your knee like it was built to do.”
>Expert Opinion: “There is good evidence that ACL injuries can be prevented by doing jump training, or plyometric drills,” says Dr. Dennis Crawford, who teaches sports medicine at Oregon Health and Science University and volunteers at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Clinic. “Learning to land with knees slightly flexed and feet below your shoulders can help stabilize the body and allow less stress to the ligaments.”
SARAH BURKE ON SHOULDER PAIN
Winter X Games gold medalist Sarah Burke suffered a rotator-cuff injury in 2006 that cost her several competitions before her superpipe victory the following year. “I was jumping off a 15-foot cliff at Whistler and landed in the backseat, dragging my right arm behind me,” Burke says.
>Rehab: Mistaking the injury for a pulled muscle, Burke iced it and hoped the pain would subside within a day. “When it didn’t magically stop hurting, I went and saw a physical therapist,” she says. “After that, I became a regular at physio and did a lot of small, targeted shoulder exercises. Once it was feeling better, I did strengthening exercises with light weights.”
>Prevention: “Always keep your arms in front of you when you’re skiing,” Burke says. “Stretch, and spend time in the gym working on those shoulders.”
>Expert Opinion: Shoulder injuries are more common in snowboarders and park-and-pipe skiers who don’t use poles, since they fall on outstretched arms, says Crawford. If you ride in the pipe, strengthen your rotator cuffs in the gym. And see a doctor if you suspect you have a shoulder injury.