MCL Injuries from Alpine Skiing
Since the early days of skiing, knee and lower leg injuries have been an ongoing concern. Because of the high velocity and twisting, turning, and falling that occurs while skiing, injury to the tibia and fibula were particularly common. Since the advent of release bindings on skis, leg injuries have become less common, while knee injuries still remain a cause for concern. In fact, knee injuries are thought to account for around one third of all Alpine Skiing-related injuries.
The majority of knee injuries seen in skiers have to do with damage to the knee ligaments, in particular the MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament). The MCL connects the inner surfaces of the femur and the tibia. It functions as resistance against forces applied to the outer surface of the knee. The MCL is damaged when this force is applied to the side of the knee whilst it is bent. For example a MCL sprain may occur if a skier is "snowploughing" down a mountain (with bent knees) and he or she falls over without changing his or her body position. Obviously, the faster the speed, the more likely that the impact with cause a serious damage to the ligament.
The treatment for an MCL injury is usually conservative. Most doctors agree that in the case of a Grade 1 or a mild Grade 2 sprain, pain and inflammation can be managed by use of an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, a knee brace, rest to the injury (using the R.I.C.E. Method). For higher-grade sprains, a doctor should be consulted to ensure the highest quality of care and the best likelihood of a full recovery.
Grade 1 Sprains. The ligament is mildly damaged in a Grade 1 Sprain. It has been slightly stretched, but is still able to help keep the knee joint stable.
Grade 2 Sprains. A Grade 2 Sprain stretches the ligament to the point where it becomes loose. This is often referred to as a partial tear of the ligament.
Grade 3 Sprains. This type of sprain is most commonly referred to as a complete tear of the ligament. The ligament has been split into two pieces, and the knee joint is unstable.
The R.I.C.E. Method is used in Sports Medicine for minor injuries to soft tissue such as minor sprains or strains. If the injury is more severe than a Grade 1 sprain, you should consider seeing a doctor to evaluate the injury and decide on the best course of treatment for a full recovery. If your injury is severe, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy, in addition to anti-inflammatory medication and diligent use of the R.I.C.E. Method, to aid in your recovery.
Rest. Reduce usage of the injured area for 48 hours. With a leg injury you may need to keep weight off it completely.
Ice. Put an ice pack on the area for 20 minutes, 4 to 8 times per day.
Compression. Swelling can be reduced using compression, such as elastic wraps, special boots, air casts and splints.
Elevation. Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart. Use a pillow to help elevate an injured limb.
The best practice is to avoid injury in the first place! Skiers who focus on pre-season conditioning, making sure that ski equipment fits properly and that binding release settings are correct, are less likely to sustain injury in the first place.