As schools’ half-term holidays loom, many of us are heading for the slopes to enjoy our annual skiing trip – so now’s the time to think not just about your skis and boots … but also about your back.
I’ve loved skiing for the past 20 years, having started when I was young, and it's always been a favourite holiday of mine. Many years ago, I went tobogganing and, for a laugh, decided to use a black bin liner. I badly damaged my coccyx, an injury that then plagued me throughout my early adult years.
I’ve always regretted that foolish moment, although it has forced me to be very aware of my back since and later encouraged me to develop my career as an ergonomist, advising UK businesses on how they can reduce their risk of back pain in the workplace.
When we go skiing, we need to be sure that our bodies and backs are healthy because skiing is a very challenging exercise. My teenagers can just get up and go because they do a lot of sport anyway and are pretty fit. For skier of all ages, here are my 6 top tips on how to enjoy skiing while remaining injury-free:
1. Your skiing preparations should begin at the office: In the run-up to your holiday, correct your posture when you are sitting at work. Don’t slouch as this will weaken your muscles. Keep your muscles strong by sitting upright. Ideally six weeks before you go away, also build up your fitness with whatever exercise you enjoy doing. So often we sit in the office for long periods, neglecting the exercise we need. Try to find time so you are a little bit fitter when you arrive at the slopes. It's all too easy to just keep going on our computers to try and get that last piece of work done before your holiday starts, but prioritise exercise, so you can enjoy the trip and return to work injury-free.
2. Check your equipment before you go: Some friends of ours told us on our last trip that their old ski boots just disintegrated when they were out on the slopes. This can happen at any stage. I then realised that I have been skiing for more than 20 years and was wearing the same old boots I bought way back then. They badly needed an update. Check that the plastic on your boots is still strong. I invested in a new pair and was very impressed by how technology has advanced. Nowadays, boots secure your ankles in much more efficient ways. Plus, modern boots are very lightweight, so it is easier to ski more freely. The technological improvements to boots are driven by safety concerns. It turns out that my boots were real dinosaurs. A disaster waiting to happen.
3. Build up slowly: I’m a bit of a ‘fine-weather skier’ myself these days. It's your choice if you want to venture out in blizzards and white-outs, but if you do, just start off a bit slow and build up steadily through the week. I love every opportunity to stop if the sun is shining, to linger on a terrace sun-lounger and enjoy a nice, hot drink. If you’re someone who prefers energetic skiing in more challenging conditions, just remember that to avoid injury it’s advisable to build up slowly through the week.
4. Don’t neglect your morning stretch: Warm up your body and back every day before you go out and hit the slopes. Start with some light stretches or warm-up movements very first thing in the day as you are getting dressed to go out. When your body is cold, it is more prone to injuries. And once you are out on the mountain, don't race straight off on the black route, try some less challenging blue or red runs first while your body acclimatises.
5. Beware back-injury danger when taking off ski boots: When you return from the slopes to your accommodation feeling tired, removing your heavy ski boots is going to be a struggle. Try not to twist and bend when taking your boots off. Instead, adopt a neutral posture when reaching down. Boots will always be tight, so try to loosen them as much as possible as they’ll be hard to pull off. Even better, ask a friend of partner to pull them off for you. And always sit down to take off your boots. Protect your back and lift your leg up while trying not to twist.
Enjoy your back-injury-free holiday. Wherever you’re skiing, take care and have fun..