When it comes to alpine sports, snowboarding provides plenty of thrills as well as risks. Injuries are common, especially in beginners and those pushing the limits. While wrist injuries are most common, your knees are also susceptible to injury. Surprisingly, just getting on or off the chairlift puts your knees at risk. Overuse can also strain tendons while jumps, tricks and collisions can stretch or tear crucial ligaments in the joint, leading to pain.
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The Knee Joint
Understanding your knee joint and its range-of-motion is important for prevention of and recovery from injury. Your knee joint consists of four bones and an intricate network of tendons, ligaments and muscles that flex and extend your leg. You have cartilage pads in between bones, called a meniscus, to allow your bones to glide without rubbing. The muscles in your upper and lower legs -- including your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves -- power your movement and majorly contribute to the joint's overall strength. Various ligaments hold your bones in place while tendons attach muscles to bones. Injury to any part of the joint can cause pain and decrease your range-of-motion.
The only time both feet are not attached to your board is when you are getting on or off the chairlift. During this time, you are essentially a skier on one extremely fat ski, and your knees are more prone to injury when you are skiing. With one foot out of its binding, your board moves awkwardly, and twisting force is applied to the knee joint. Due to the size and weight of your board, the force applied to your lower leg is significant. If you fell during your entry or exit on the chairlift, or if your board twisted suddenly, you may have injured a ligament or tendon in your knee.
When gliding down the slope, your feet are firmly attached to your snowboard. Your knees are typically bent, helping to absorb shock as well as promoting the movements of your lower legs. When your knees are bent, you put more stress on your quadriceps -- or front thigh muscles -- which attach to your knee joint via the quadriceps tendon. Overuse of this muscle and tendon can lead to inflammation, eventually causing knee pain. Likewise, other movements you perform while snowboarding, if your muscles are not in shape, can stress tendons in your knees. Performing sport-specific exercises and stretches can help prevent overuse injuries.
Though not as common in snowboarding as it is in skiing, ligament tears and ruptures do happen on your board. Strain to the medial collateral ligament -- which connects your thigh and shin bone -- is one of the most common knee injuries on the slopes, occurring when your knee is twisted. You may feel pain when your knee is bent and your shin moves outward. ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, injuries are on the rise. This ligament prevents excessive rotation of your knee joint and forward movement of your shin bone. Injuries to these two ligaments most often occur during stunts where you are required to land a jump or trick.
Maintaining adequate strength and flexibility in your leg muscles can help prevent overuse injuries. Use caution getting on and off the chairlift to avoid twisting your joint excessively. Whether you are performing tricks or just strapping a board on your feet for the first time, learn proper technique from an instructor. Understanding the nuances of the sport can help prevent falls and accidents.