The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Knee Injuries Plague World’s Top Skiers

Posted by on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

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Perhaps no one looks forward to the start of the Alpine ski season more than U.S. alpine ski team superstar Lindsey Vonn. Yet, the strains and physical hardship of being a world-class Olympic athlete sometimes means passing up on what you love to ensure a career with longevity. Vonn recently passed up an October race in Soelden, Austria to make her debut at the World Cup tour November 29th through December 1st in Beaver Creek, Colorado. “I am confident the extra month of training will ultimately put me in the best position to have a successful season,” she said, nine months after a knee injury. It turns out, many of the world’s top skiers suffer a knee mishap from time to time.

alpine world cup
A lift at the Alpine World Cup, where Lindsey Vonn will make her debut after recovering from a knee injury. Image Source: FIS-Ski.com

What Happened To Lindsey’s Knee?

On February 5th, Lindsey Vonn tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in her right knee during a crash at the Super G world championships in Schladming, Austria. The ACL is the most common knee injury out of the four major knee ligaments and is one that frequently requires surgery. The MCL is usually treated with bracing and physical therapy. These ligaments are involved in the stabilization of the knee, preventing unnecessary rotation or moving beyond the standard range of motion.

skier knee injuries
The ligaments in the knee. Image Source: Ski-Injury.com

Knee Injuries: A Common Occurrence Among The World’s Best

Certain types of injury are associated with rookies or people who do not train in proper form. However, other injuries we frequently seen in our NYC sports medicine complex are a matter of overuse and grueling training regimens that can be unavoidable for professional athletes. Also, one cannot always avoid a collision or sudden accident that may injure the knee.

Over the years, injury rates for skiers have improved from one in 1,700 chance of injury in 1995 to one in 27,000. Studies show that women are 5-6 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury. Experts say the mechanics of ski equipment protects the lower leg and ankle — but not the knee — from injury. As skiers shift weight to the back of the skis, the risk of knee ligament damage increases. Elite skiers get going so fast that the risk level skyrockets. In other words, a small flaw can quickly become a major catastrophe.

cost of ACL injuries
It’s important that an ACL injury receive the proper treatment. Image Source: ANationInMotion.org

New Hybrid Therapies Offer Hope Of A Quick Recovery

Canadian free-style skier Kaya Turski tore the ACL in her left knee after launching off a jump, losing her position in the air, and coming down on her knee with half-a-turn left in her trick. Her knee buckled  beneath her, causing excruciating pain. Having torn both ACLs in the past, Kaya had already donated ligaments from both hamstrings for previous reconstructions and she was “out of body parts.” Past surgeries left large drill holes in her shin and thigh bones that synthetic ligaments couldn’t fill. Cadaver or tissue donor grafts would take far too long to heal and strengthen.

So, an orthopedic surgeon used an “experimental, hybrid procedure” that wrapped a synthetic ligament inside a cadaver graft to give Kaya immediate strength from a synthetic part, while offering the longevity of a natural ligament. Not every surgeon would have taken such a bold, risky “desperation move,” but the case could end up being a model for other cases if it works out. So far, so good: eight weeks later, Kaya was reporting full range of motion in her new knee. Her goal is to pull herself together in time for the February 2014 Winter Olympics, but only time will tell if she will be ready to compete.

Traditional Methods Can Heal Skier Knee Injuries, Too

In 2012, 18-year-old Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup title. Yet, her hopes of winning a medal at the Sochi Games were dashed when she tore her right knee’s MCL and ACL during a training jump in Germany on August 21st.  With less than five months to recoup, she knew she would never make it to the Olympic games.

Eight days after the fall, her hamstring was harvested to repair her ACL. She opted to go the traditional reconstruction route to fix her MCL, which was torn off the bone, and her lateral meniscus, which was severely damaged, because it just “didn’t feel right” to go with synthetic for the quick recovery. “At this time, synthetic in the long term isn’t that promising,” she said. So, in the meantime, she spends six to seven hours a day at a training center in Park City, Utah, undergoing two physical therapy sessions a day.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.