Five Most Common Ski Injuries

by Frank V. Persall

Knee, thumb, shoulder, and head injuries are the most frequent ski injuries. Injuries are more common in novice or elderly skiers, although they may also occur in expert skiers. Injury risk may be reduced with proper preparation, understanding of the technique, dangers, safety, and well-fitted ski gear.

Five Most Common Ski Injuries
Five Most Common Ski Injuries

Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries

One of four ligaments that support the knee joint is the medial collateral ligament (MCL). An MCL injury might be accompanied by other ligament problems.

Injury Mechanisms

The most common MCL ski injuries are strains or sprains, with partial rips or total separation of the ligament from the knee occurring less often. Beginners and exhausted skiers are the most vulnerable to injury, and MCL injuries are the most common:

  • When you fall or change your body posture, your knee twists or changes to the side in relation to your thigh.
  • Slow movement or stopping with skis when they're widely apart while keeping a snowplow stance (crossed skis). The MCL is strained when the knee is moved to the side.

Treatment for Minor Injuries

The severity of the MCL damage determines how the injury is treated. It's important to stop skiing and get down the hill as quickly as possible, to receive first aid treatment. Minor MCL sprains or strains may be treated with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), as well as an anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen.

Medical Attention

If first aid treatments don't work or your injury isn't a minor one, you may need to see a doctor.

  • You find it difficult to stand or walk.
  • You're in a lot of pain.
  • Your knee is inflamed.
  • Your knee seems to be out of position.
  • Instability in your knee might indicate a partial or total rupture of the MCL, as well as involvement of other knee ligaments.
  • There's a chance you'll get a fracture.
  • Pain in other body parts.
  • After using first aid for up to 24 hours, your symptoms may intensify.

An examination will look for damage to other knee ligaments, such as the ACL, as well as knee or leg fractures.

Additional Treatment

The treatment may involve the following:

  • Initial knee stabilization using a brace or splint that restricts your knee's range of motion for three to six weeks.
  • Once the knee has stabilized, you may return to full function by doing prescribed, gradual range of motion and strengthening activities.
  • Knee surgery to correct a ligament separation is less common.


The following will aid in avoiding injuries:

  • Make sure you're in excellent physical shape and have enough of rest.
  • General ski safety recommendations and ski resort safety requirements should be followed.
  • Ski at your own pace.
  • Wear the appropriate clothing and equipment, such as boots and bindings.
  • Instead of fighting the fall and injuring yourself, learn how to fall to prevent injury.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) may be injured on its own or in combination with other knee ligament problems. Though less prevalent than MCL injuries, this injury may have greater long-term consequences. Sprains, partial or full tears of the ACL are all possible.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries

Injury Mechanisms

This damage is caused by two methods, according to the Vermont ski safety research group:

  • When the tail of the ski and the rear of the hard ski boot operate as a lever against which the ACL bends and twists, the "Phantom Boot" occurs.
  • When an off-balance skier falls forcefully on the ski, the rear of the boot drives the lower leg (tibia) forward in respect to the upper leg, causing a "Boot Induced ACL" (femur).

Among the other mechanisms are:

  • Your knee rotates as you fall backwards with your hips lower than your knees and your forward movement continues.
  • While gliding ahead, your lower leg twists away from your upper leg, allowing you to turn or halt by "grabbing an edge" of one ski. The ski and your leg are thrown outwards, causing ligament sprains or rips.

First Aid Treatment

Assess your condition if you have any further injuries. If in doubt, stop skiing and get off the hill as quickly as possible to provide first aid assistance. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation, as well as an anti-inflammatory prescription like ibuprofen, are all options if your injury is small. To avoid additional damage, keep the leg straight and motionless.

Medical Attention

The same symptoms as with MCL injuries apply here, as well as the ones listed below. If you have any of the following symptoms, see a doctor for a more thorough examination:

  • Knee instability, which might indicate an ACL injury (partial or full).
  • Leg discomfort or instability which might indicate a leg fracture.
  • Increased pain in other places of the body, or increased pain or other symptoms

Additional Therapy

ACL injuries are less frequent than MCL injuries, but they may be more catastrophic. An ACL injury often requires surgery to repair the ligament as well as extensive therapy to restore normal knee function.


Take steps to avoid injuries and harms, just as you would with MCL injuries. If a fall is inevitable, learn how to fall safely to reduce your chances of getting injured.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

It's also known as "Skier's Thumb" and it involves an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that runs through the first joint of the thumb.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

Injury Mechanism

UCL injuries are often sustained when a skier falls with their arms extended and their ski pole still in hand. The initial joint of the thumb is forced laterally away from the pole and the rest of your hand, causing the UCL to be stretched or torn in certain cases. Dislocations and fractures of the thumb are among the less frequent.

Treatment in the Case of an Emergency

The assessment and first treatment of a "skier's thumb" involves the use of conventional RICE first aid protocols. For moderate to severe sprains, casting the thumb for three to six weeks is recommended as an additional therapy. If the ligament is entirely ripped from the thumb, it may be necessary to have it surgically repaired.

Medical Attention

Don't ignore a thumb injury, even if your symptoms are slight, according to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons. Since your thumb is important for grabbing, pinching, and picking things up, don't disregard a little damage. Ensure to see a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms such as those listed below and need examination and appropriate treatment.

  • Severe thumb pain
  • Swelling, especially if it's getting worse
  • Instability at the joint, which might indicate a complete UCL rupture

Additional Treatment

If the damage is not diagnosed and treated appropriately, the thumb might become permanently unstable and disabled. If the ligament has completely separated from the thumb, surgery will certainly be required.


In addition to learning how to fall properly, utilizing ski poles with straps rather than a fitted or permanent grip may help reduce thumb injuries.

Shoulder Injuries

Strains to the rotator cuff, a set of ligaments that maintain the shoulder joint, are the most prevalent shoulder ski injuries, according to a survey published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2009. The rotator cuff, other ligaments, and soft tissues rupture less commonly, causing the joint to move (subluxation) or dislocate out of position. Additionally, the clavicle, as well as the top or ball of the arm (humerus), may fracture.

Falls or accidents that cause shoulder ski injuries include:

  • Breaking your fall by extending your hands.
  • The ski pole being "planted."
  • A direct strike to the joint by slamming into an item or person while falling or skiing.

Treatment for Minor Injuries

Other ski injuries should be assessed by you or people around you, and you should get off the ski course as quickly as possible. Rest and ice your shoulder as needed. If the injury appears to be minor, take an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pain.

Medical Attention

The location and severity of a shoulder injury determine the symptoms. If you have any of the following symptoms, get expert medical help as soon as possible for further examination and treatment:

  • There is more discomfort that might indicate bone fractures or ligament tears.
  • Your shoulder is lower than usual, which might indicate a dislocation.
  • After administering first aid assistance, there is still pain, edema, or a worsening of symptoms.

Additional Treatment

Depending on the nature and severity of the shoulder injury, further treatment may include:

  • By wrapping the arm in a collar, strains or sprains may be stabilized and protected.
  • In a doctor's office, dislocated shoulders are often popped back into the joint socket.
  • Surgery may be required to reposition the shoulder, as well as to repair ligament tears or bone fractures and stabilize the joint.

Early physical and rehabilitative therapy after treatment will restore complete function to the joint and avoid loss of mobility (freezing).


Take standard safety measures on the ski slopes and learn how to fall and stop to avoid immediate harm. Since recurrent shoulder injuries are prevalent, it's important to understand what caused the original injury.

Head Injuries

Scrapes, bruises, cuts, and fractures are common ski-related head injuries. They are caused by a strong fall or a swift impact with an object or another skier. The severity of the injury is determined on the skier's speed and the item struck. A head injury is more likely to result in death than other types of ski injuries.

First Aid treatment

For head injuries, first aid and other choices depend on promptly analyzing the skier's health, symptoms, and the degree of the damage, which may be challenging. You and everyone around you should be aware that a head injury might be more serious than it looks at first.

Without professional assistance, getting down the slopes may be impossible. Always keep in mind that there's a potential of a neck injury as well. Any movement of the head or neck might injure the spinal cord further.

Symptoms of a Head Injury

The following are some of the symptoms that might occur after a head injury, depending on the degree of the damage:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Breathing problems
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion and haziness
  • Coordination issues
  • Loss of consciousness

Even if the damage looks minor and there are few or no symptoms, anybody who has suffered a head injury should seek medical help as soon as possible.

Medical Attention

Symptoms or indicators of a more serious head injury, such as dizziness, disorientation, or loss of consciousness, should be treated as an emergency that requires immediate medical assistance. The degree of the damage and the intensity of the evaluation and therapy are determined by the symptoms.

Delayed Symptoms

Since symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may not appear for hours after a head accident, a skier should be closely monitored for indications of a traumatic brain injury, ideally in a hospital. Unrecognized severe head trauma may result in bleeding and increased pressure on the brain, which can lead to herniation of the brain stem and death.


Wearing a helmet, in addition to normal ski safety guidelines may lower the risk of brain injuries when skiing. Other safety tips include keeping an eye out for other skiers, ski lifts, and other resort items, staying on defined paths, avoiding speeding, and skiing at your ability level.

General Prevention Tips

Preventing ski injuries are very important. Take note of the following:

  • Before the season begins, work out and condition the muscles you'll be using the most when skiing.
  • Examine your skis, boots, and bindings. Ascertain that your bindings have been tested and modified in accordance with the American Society for Testing Materials' guidelines (ASTM).
  • Make sure your ski bindings are adjusted to your height and weight.
  • Make sure you're getting enough sleep.
  • Keep a close eye on your food and hydration consumption.
  • Before you go skiing, you should warm up.
  • Wear layers that you can modify and that don't obstruct your stability or mobility.
  • Remember to be safe when skiing and at the ski resort.
  • Keep an eye out for path hazards like pebbles and ice, as well as weather warnings.

Safety and Preparation

Inadequate planning, excessive speed, weariness, overconfidence, and a lack of focus to safety and dangers may all result in catastrophic accidents. On the slopes, preparation and safety precautions may assist to lower your chance of harm.

About Frank V. Persall

Frank is originally from the UK, but he has a passion for skiing that knows no bounds. He has made it his life's mission to visit the best ski resorts across the USA and the World. Frank loves spending time with his wife and three children on ski slopes, as they all share his love for the activity.

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