Knees: Learn to Land


(SKIING Magazine by Jonathan Berkowitz) -- Anyone can catch air -- landing safely is the hard part. Especially if you're a girl. Female skiers tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the key ligament holding the knee together, two to three times more often than males. And it's a problem that's bound to get worse with the ever-increasing popularity of throwing trick airs in the pipe and park. The solution may be sending those new schoolers back to school.

They call it jump training, but it's really about learning to land properly. "The trick is to jump and land without making noise," explains Kentucky Sports Medicine Clinic president Mary Lloyd Ireland, M.D., who has used jump training with female soccer and basketball players to significantly reduce ACL injury rates. She's not the only one who's been successful. A 1999 study by Timothy Hewett published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that women who jump trained for six weeks lowered the incidence of knee injury by a whopping 75 percent.

Could it work for skiers? "Without question, silent jumps strengthen the hips and legs, enabling skiers to engage that all-important flexed knee-hip position that is vital to safe skiing and landing," says Ireland. "Jump training is a powerful training tool that may help reduce ACL injuries in female skiers."

In explaining the gender inequities of ACL injuries, researchers point, in part, to muscle differences. "When you examine how women and men recruit knee muscles, you find significant differences," says Dr. Deborah Saint-Phard, a jump-training advocate and assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at Cornell University. "The hamstrings are critical knee stabilizers. Studies have shown that men, when actively stabilizing the knee, recruit their hamstrings first, whereas women tend to recruit their quadriceps first. Add to this anatomical differences like hip width, joint laxity, and ACL size, and you have a recipe for disaster."

Jump training may help avert that disaster --not only through soft landings but also by building strength where women need it. "A healthy and safe knee demands that the surrounding muscles are strong," says Dr. Saint-Phard. The bottom line, she says: "Jump training is the only intervention proven to reduce ACL injuries in female athletes."

So, the skier who finds herself flying through the air should take a cue from the band House of Pain and jump around. It could be the critical difference between a winter ripping the gnar or rehabbing the knee.


To practice jumping (and landing): Always keep the knees facing straight ahead, not knock-kneed. With knees and hips slightly bent, jump up. Then, as you land, bend at the knees again, giving slowly to reduce the impact. Keep your body in a "controlled position of hips over knees over feet," explains Ireland. Concentrate on making the landing soft and quiet. "Light as a feather," she says.