Does Snowboarding Damage Your Knees?

A competitor at the 2013 women's World Cup snowboard competition bends into the jump.

A competitor at the 2013 women's World Cup snowboard competition bends into the jump.

"Snowboarding is no longer new, no longer extreme, and -- now that your mom knows how to ride -- no longer quite as cool," declared "Time" magazine in 2013. So what? More and more women have taken up the wintertime equivalent of surfing in the 21st century, barreling down the slopes and performing acrobatic tricks. And even if the sport isn't quite as cool or popular as it used to be, it's just as much fun -- unless you get hurt. Although snowboarding generally doesn't cause knee damage, you can suffer nasty strains, tears and fractures in certain situations.

Knee Injuries

According to research published in the "American Journal of Sports Medicine" in 2012, snowboarders tend to suffer mostly wrist, shoulder, ankle and concussion injuries. Knee injuries are more likely if you're a skier than a snowboarder. That said, there are lots of potential ways to injure your knees on a snowboard. You can fracture your patella, the bone that floats on the top of the knee. You can sprain one of the two menisci, the cartilages of the knee. You can tear or rupture one of the four knee ligaments -- women athletes are particularly susceptible to injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, frequently tearing them in sports such as basketball and soccer as well as on the slopes.

Medial Collateral Ligament Injuries

The most common knee injury for a snowboarder is a sprain to the medial collateral ligament, which links the thighbone and shin on the inside of your knee. A twist of the knee can damage this ligament. Sprains are classified as first, second or third degree, and a third-degree sprain might require surgery.

ACL Injuries

The ACL joint, buried deep inside the knee joint, also connects the thighbone and the shinbone. You can injure an ACL joint by landing on a bent knee and twisting it or by landing on a knee that is overextended. Collisions with a tree can accomplish the same dire results. If you partially tear an ACL, you might only need rehab instead of surgery. A full tear or rupture requires surgery to literally get you back on your feet.

Circumstances That Cause Knee Injuries

Three circumstances produce most snowboard knee injuries, according to Dr. Mike Langran, president of the International Society for Skiing Safety. If you have only one leg in the binding of the snowboard -- such as when you're getting off a ski lift -- you're in an awkward and vulnerable position. The snowboard is much bigger and heavier than a single ski, and it's not uncommon for people entering or exiting a ski lift to twist or put an excessive amount of force on their bound leg. A direct force impact is the second main circumstance, which can include a collision with another snowboarder, skier or tree. Finally, if you're performing tricks in the air, you're vulnerable to a knee injury if you kiss the slope with lots of force as you smack back down to earth.

Protection

You're not likely to hurt your knees when you snowboard, so don't let the possibility of injury scare you off if you love to climb on the board. To help prevent knee injuries, you can strengthen the muscles and joints surrounding your knees with exercise that builds up the legs. Biking, jogging and weight training are a few of the ways to strengthen your lower limbs. Balance and flexibility exercises, including yoga poses, can enhance your ability to avoid falls or fall in a safer manner. And don't forget the knee pads. You can use knee pads designed for snowboarding, skateboarding or inline skating. Knee pads not only offer direct protection, they keep your joints warm and supple when you're on the slopes.

 

About the Author

Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.

Photo Credits

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