Skiing After an ACL Injury
If you've torn your ACL or injured your knee, I hope this post helps you.
Today was my first day back on the slopes since I tore my ACL nearly two years ago.
Do yourself a favor: don't tear your ACL. Easier said than done when you're not a couch potato. Being an athlete / athletic person exposes you to risks, but the risks are definitely worth it.
I tore my ACL in late March while on our Ski Bumming 2018 tour. It was truly a freak accident. I was off of Chair 22 at Mammoth Mountain when I fell, which was no big deal. But then I started sliding down, on my back, head first. I had done this before twice in my life, and both times I slid quite a distance, and it was SUPER scary and dangerous, especially with a bunch of trees around.
So this time, as I’m sliding, I’m thinking I better “right” myself. I picked up my skis to rotate around. Unfortunately I didn’t pick up my left ski high enough, which caused the tail to hit the snow while my body was rotating around. My knee went uphill; my body kept going downhill. I heard the dreaded “pop,” and then came the pain.
I didn’t realize it then, but I also tore my hamstring and had bone bruising. I made the STUPID decision to get myself down the hill and not call ski patrol. DO. NOT. DO. THIS.
The decision was even more ridiculously stupid because I was skiing alone on a ◆◆ run (Shaft) not frequented by many and away from the view of the lift. I was incredibly lucky I didn’t fall again and really blow up my knee / my entire leg. It was extremely difficult and painful (and SUPER risky, and I'll say it another way: utterly ridiculous in the worst way) to do this.
Thank goodness I only tore my ACL and didn’t rip up my knee like what can happen when there is weight load on the knee at the time of injury.
I was also so incredibly fortunate to have an amazing, renown surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Akizuki, located right here in San Francisco. I spent a lot of time researching / looking for the right surgeon. I wanted a sports medicine ortho, ideally one who was associated with a professional sports team (Dr. Akizuki is the team physician for the San Francisco Giants).
If you ever have to have surgery, hopefully you have excellent health care nearby and the luxury of interviewing a few so you can find the one that feels just right for you. When I met with Dr. Akizuki, I felt like a healing blanket was put over my knee.
I had the reconstructive surgery and worked SUPER hard for eight months in physical therapy to get myself back onto the tennis court and the slopes.
All the research I’ve done shows two things: a) the chances of tearing the ACL in the non-injured leg tends to be high with a return to sports, and b) the hardest part of returning to the slopes is the mental aspect.
I know my chances of tearing the ACL on my right knee due to Point A is minimal. This is because of all the work I did in PT on both legs, and because my awesome physical therapist, Dorian Danik of Presidio Sport and Medicine in San Francisco, did a comparative strength test between the injured and non-injured legs.
I was good to go. If you tear your ACL (or injure your leg or knee), most definitely do the equivalent PT exercises on your non-injured leg while rehabbing your injured knee / leg. This is a must, and if possible, the best time to work the non-injured leg is right after your PT appoint, especially if they'll let you stay in the facility.
Point B is another story. Most thankfully, my injury was due to a freak accident vs. a blow-out yard sale crash. I can only imagine how difficult it would be psychologically if the tear happened due to a bad fall.
Well, I faced the moment of truth here at Deer Valley: would I be too freaked out to ski like I used to?
I dedicated my first day to the four people most instrumental in my ACL reconstruction recovery: 1der, my Daddy, Dorian, and my tennis buddy Doug. Getting back on the court months ago was instrumental in continuing to build my lateral strength and give me the confidence to move like I used to. But... in spite of my physical condition, I’m constantly thinking and worried about my knee. Keep in mind a full ACL reconstruction takes two years to fully heal.
You may find that factoid hard to believe / question this, especially because pro athletes are back in action in months. I defer the answer to Dr. Akizuki. As he said: the ACL graft must undergo re-population, proliferation of cells and re-vascularization, and the amount of time it takes for this to fully happen, in any human body, is the same, and It doesn’t matter if you’re a couch potato or the best athlete in the world: two full years.
Of course this doesn’t mean one can’t resume activity within several months post-op. For me, this just means my knee and the way I move are always in my conscience / the back of my mind. I must always think strategically and preventively.
The amount of time, energy, effort and hard physical work to get through this is EXTENSIVE and EXPENSIVE, so if one is not constantly paying mind to their knee, I’d definitely be scared for them.
For preventive measures and a safety precaution, I got a medically prescribed knee brace (Breg Z12 non-custom. More on this on another post to come), which I will wear whenever I ski. I don’t wear one to play tennis, and at first, I was hesitant to get one for skiing as I don’t want to become psychologically dependent it. But... I’m not going to take any risks. I will wear one because it’s the smart thing to do, at least for the first couple years post-op.
My first day on the mountain post-op was fantastic. My knee feels "good as new," and my legs really powerful; I was extremely happy with my performance.
The snow was good, though there were several spots where it is crusty under fresh snow. We joined a mountain tour (highly recommend mountain tours; they're free and a great way to get the lay of the land) and spent the afternoon zooming all over the mountain. I wasn’t skiing tentatively.
And then it happened. A big, hard fall — a head banger, and not sure what happened to my body. I laid still for a second and did inventory: I didn’t even think about my knee while it was happening; I wasn’t at all fazed; no pain; no pop; both knees in tact. Everything is great! I was really happy I took a fall this soon and this hard so I could know the answer to my burning question:
I AM BACK!!!!
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