By Lionel Haldane, 2006.
Unfortunately one does not have to be involved in the Snowboard Instructing industry for very long before becoming aware of the number and frequency of snowboarding injuries occurring in the sport. It would also appear that it doesn’t take long, in most cases, for oneself to be added to the casualty list. However, there are a few simple things we can all do to limit the chance of injury to our students and ourselves. As we all know the most common joint of injury for Snowboard Instructors is the knee, and there are some simple reasons for this, along with some simple ways to help prevent them.
The large majority of NZSIA Snowboard Instructors ride in a ‘duck stance’ and we also generally have a wider stance than our international counterparts. As we have all learnt, this is a strong stance while riding and I personally wouldn’t change that characteristic of New Zealand snowboarders at all; so don’t worry you can keep reading!
Because of this stance however we ride in a squatted position that works the Vastus Medialis muscle, (that’s the inside half of the quadriceps muscle on the front of your thigh). This muscle, along with doing knee extensions, helps support the knee from abduction or hyperflexion injuries.
The unblanaced knee
Unfortunately continuously riding in this duck stance creates a uneven strength balance between the Vastus Medialis and the Vastus Lateralis, (Inside quad and Outside quad muscles), which puts the knee at risk by three mechanisms. Firstly the imbalance of the Quadriceps muscles causes unequal tracking of the patella, (knee cap), in the trochanteric groove on the front of the femur, as the knee flexes up and down. This predisposes us to injuring the patella ligament and/or tendon, as well as initiating wear in the cartilage lining the patello-femoral joint behind the knee cap.
Secondly, the increased strength of the quadriceps overall created by our wider and stronger riding stance causes more forward pull on the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) which puts the ACL at increased risk of injury also.
Lastly, the position that the knee is in when riding in a wide duck stance naturally puts more stress on the inside of the knee, putting the MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) at risk, especially in an individual whose knee and ankle angles do not make them suited for riding in this stance.
Therefore to help minimise the risk of knee injuries, (specifically the ACL and Patella Ligament), there are a few things we should all be doing to help ourselves.
Balancing your knee muscles
The simplest of these can be done while sitting on the couch. Simply point your toes inward on one leg and straighten the leg out until your leg is parallel with the floor, hold for a short time while ‘clenching’ the quads muscle, (go on – make it work hard!), and then slowly lower your foot back to the floor. Repeat this ten times and then rest that leg while you repeat the process with the other leg. Do this to both legs at least three times each. Developing this habit while watching your latest Snowboarding DVD may well prevent that injury which would otherwise stop you attempting that switch backside nine that you were watching on the DVD.
Another way of helping to strengthen your Vastus Lateralis is by doing squats or leg presses at a gym, (or home gym), with your toes pointing in.
What suits your body type?
The above discussion does not take into account an individuals natural ankle and knee anatomy however, and it is of utmost importance to observe and allow for the individuals ankle angle; (pronated/inside of foot down, neutral or supinated/outside of foot down), and knee angle, genu valgus (knee in and lower-leg out/knock kneed) or genu varus (knee out and lower-leg out/bow kneed).
Look at it in your riding style and your students riding style to see how much ‘stress’ is being put on the ankle. Obviously if your foot is pointing in one direction and your knee in another it creates ‘stress’ on the ankle. Therefore, which is a better stance for you or your student because of individual physical make-up: Alpine, Neutral or Duck?
An easy way to test this is to stand tall with feet hip width apart and then squat down. If you naturally squat with your knees spread apart then you would be better suited to a duck stance. If you naturally squat with your knees together then it would be better to keep your knees and therefore ankles pointing in the same direction, and hence an alpine or neutral stance would be better suited. This squatting technique is an easy way of checking your students for their appropriate stance style to assist in preventing painful students, because instructing someone to ride duck stance when they are anatomically not suited to that position is a sure fire way to create a medial collateral ligament injury, as mentioned above.
Another common imbalance
One other injury risk that snowboarders and in particular snowboard instructors have we share with golfers, and the reason is that both sports share a common physical imbalance. When someone plays a lot of golf they are consistently exercising towards one side of the body, (towards the left for right handed, towards the right for a left handed swing), therefore creating a muscular imbalance through the body which can lead towards spinal problems caused by the repetitive rotational distortion injury, leading to the development of a physiological (functional) scoliosis (sideways curvature) of the spine. Note that the curvature is not structural, but is purely caused by the soft tissue injury that develops with repetitive muscle use in the one direction.
In snowboarding a similar problem can occur if someone snowboards a lot (such as instructors!) and rides a large percentage of the time riding with one particular foot forward, then they too can develop the muscular imbalance that lends itself towards injuries such as joint injuries in the spine. Obviously it is very simple to prevent this from ever becoming a problem; just ride more switch! Riding with a better balance of time and energy on either leading leg prevents the body from over strengthening one side.
Keeping these few things in mind for our students and ourselves would help keep the sport we love growing and keep us on the slopes instead of on the couch resting that last knee and back twinge, or worse!
Now of course there is one way that we can do to prevent snowboard injuries all together. Don’t snowboard! But then again, some things are just worth the risk aren’t they?!