Skiing and Podiatry - What you need to know!

Winter’s here, and thankfully that means – in addition to all the stouts, scotches, woodfires and soups – snow season. The demands skiing and snowboarding place on the body (especially the lower limbs) are perhaps the most serious of all sports. The ability to feel every nuance of terrain, get on the ski’s edge in an instant and carve the living daylights out of the slopes all depend on the feet and legs properly transferring energy from your skis to snow. But what do you need to know about proper foot and leg function during skiing? What if you continuously feel as if something just isn’t quite right about the feel of your boots or skis? And what can you do to ensure you have not only the best comfort and fit, but foot, ankle and knee positioning so to not put your joints further into harms way?

Well, listen up!

Basically, to be an effective skier you must be able to effectively Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 12.14.37 PMgenerate force between the inner edge of the ski and snow surface, which will allow the snow to exert a force on the ski necessary to help you make a turn. In addition to this, you lean towards the centre of the turn’s radius to counteract the nasty physics at work trying to send you out and over your skis (like how an unfastened object flies off a spinning turntable or record player).

But what is the single factor underpinning your ability to impart force on the inner edge of the ski? Well quite simply, it’s the area around and behind the ball of the big toe – the point at which the positioning of the body culminates
to meet with and exert its entire weight onto the edge of the ski and
hence make the turn.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 12.15.01 PM The design of the modern ski boot aids this for two reasons:

1.  The heel raise shifts our weight towards the front of the foot;
2.  The forced ankle flexion encourages knee flexion, which helps to lower our arc and thus increase the pressure towards the inner side of the foot (hence inner ski).

These two allow firm medial forefoot force to be transmitted to the boot, and in combination with proper fit and binding, to the medial edge of the ski to initiate and hold an edge during a turn.

However, as with running, walking and pretty much every sport, some of us have inherent movement patterns or biomechanics that are unideal for the given activity. These movements can result in overload of certain tissues or joints, and result in compensatory movements, which can increase load elsewhere.

For example, one of the most problematic types of feet for skiing are those that have an “overflexible” medial column ofScreen Shot 2014-05-06 at 12.15.18 PM the foot, whereby the medial forefoot (red) is trying to transmit force to the inner edge of the ski, however due to the returning force from the snow, is forced upwards and collapses.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 12.15.38 PM

Most of these feet will have difficulty initiating and maintaining a strong edge/turn because of this lack of medial forefoot force being transmitted into the ski since, to generate sufficient edge they must excessively internally rotate and adduct their knee (green), so to drive their weight onto the medial forefoot which is being pushed upwards. This can result in ligament and soft tissue strain, which if repeated over time can cause severe injury.

So what do you do if any of this sounds familiar, and after a day on the slopes your knees, hips or feet are killing?

Well, first and foremost is a proper assessment from a sports podiatrist or physio who has a thorough knowledge of the specific movements (and the demands they place on the body) of the sport., they must excessively internally rotate and adduct their knee (green), so to drive their weight onto the medial forefoot which is being pushed upwards.. This can result in ligament and soft tissue strain, which if repeated over time can cause severe injury.

Understanding this, as well as assessing the fit and positioning of your feet, knee and hips in the skis, will enable a proper diagnosis and development of an appropriate plan (which can include specific exercises, orthotics or inserts, or boot modifications) to get you back on the slopes!

Article: Podiatrist Damir Metljak (besides being our renowned Podiatrist, Damir is an avid (albeit courageous) skier who has a passion for improving everyone’s participation in the sport).