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How to Survive the Slopes

Published: The Scotsman (TSMAG) 30 Nov 2004

THIS WINTER, more than one million Britons will embark on skiing or snowboarding holidays, but new research suggests as many as 20,000 will have to abandon the slopes prematurely due to injury.

If those figures sound implausible, consider a holiday I took to Morzine last year. Six guys – all in their twenties, all reasonably fit and well-co-ordinated – fly out to the French Alps for a week of late-season snowboarding. On Tuesday evening, everything appears to be going well. By Friday afternoon, however, one of our number is struggling not to fall on his cracked ribs – again – while another has been reduced to hobbling around the resort in search of pretty barmaids to chat up after tearing a ligament in his ankle. I myself experienced varying degrees of lower back pain throughout the week, but more about that later.

The simple fact is, skiing and snowboarding are physically demanding activities. They place unaccustomed strain on all kinds of muscles and joints, yet the vast majority of winter sports enthusiasts arrive at their mountain of choice having done little or no preparation.

Fortunately, help is at hand. The recently revamped Edinburgh Physiotherapy Centre (EPC) on Henderson Row has just launched a new ski-buster programme to prepare people for the rigours of the piste. Designed for skiers and snowboarders alike, this pre-ski MoT uses specifically targeted exercises to strengthen the areas of the body which most frequently fail winter sportspeople.

My initial consultation was carried out by Kirsten Lord, who established EPC 12 years ago, and her colleague, Kenny Scott. First comes a brief assessment of my skiing and snowboarding experience (five years of boarding/sporadic, out-of-control attempts at skiing) and my injury history to date (just the dodgy back). Then it’s down to the nitty-gritty – a series of 14 movement tests designed to assess which bits of my body function as they should and which bits need fine tuning – or serious repair.

I’m sad to say there isn’t enough space here to list all my various malfunctions, but the most significant ones are my twisted pelvis and the “problem segment” in my upper back.

I was unaware there was anything wrong with my pelvis, but Lord explains: “It’s really important your pelvis moves well because that allows you to respond to changes of direction and terrain.” My upper back is also a problem. Scott uses a model of the spine to show me what’s gone wrong. “You have less mobility through this area than you should,” he says, pointing to the mid-section of the model. “This vertebra – T11 – sticks out and it’s held in a tight position. It’s also turned towards the right. As you twist and turn, you’re getting relatively little movement through here, so you’re having to make up for that with more movement elsewhere.” All of which explains the lower back pain I experienced last year.

To help me iron out these inconvenient kinks in my physiology, Lord and Scott prescribe three exercises. First, there’s the upper body twist, which involves standing with my hands on opposite shoulders and twisting my upper back around without moving my hips. This should help loosen up my stubborn T11 area, which should in turn take some of the pressure off my lower back. Then there are two exercises to help me regain control of my wayward pelvis – flattening my back against a wall (using stomach and buttock muscles rather than legs) and squeezing my buttocks together (for up to a minute).

At a follow-up session four days later, Kenny is pleased with my progress and I’m feeling more supple than I have for a long time. A small army of Britons may be about to injure themselves on the slopes this winter, but I don’t intend to be one of them.

Until 31 December, skibuster assessments are available at the reduced rate of GBP 39 for an initial 45-minute assessment and GBP 34 for subsequent sessions of 30 minutes. Tel: 0131-556 1116 or visit www.edphysio.com

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