First of all, I’d like to start this by stating I am not a doctor of anything. Knee pain is very serious and you should not use this blog post or really any other blog post to self-diagnose. If you are experiencing chronic knee pain, you should consult your physician, coach, personal trainer, or someone with a good deal of expertise in human anatomy and physiology. What I can tell you is that knee pain from skiing is most likely a direct result of improper ski form and lack of conditioning. Assessing these two factors and making the necessary changes will not only make you a better skier and help prevent pain while skiing, but may also save you from a devastating injury such as a torn ligament.
Proper Ski Conditioning
The best thing you can do to avoid sore knees while skiing is to be in good shape. Some people didn’t really want to read that last sentence—but when you’re putting hundreds of pounds of pressure into your knees every time you make a turn, being in shape is key to keeping your knees healthy. Common exercises like squats, box jumps, lunges, and wall sits are all great ways to strengthen your legs and knees to keep them healthy. You can take it one step further and use a balance board or medicine ball to do light squats. This activates all the small muscles in your ankles and knees to add even more strength.
Your body and your skiing style will best determine the right exercises and commitment level for you. I like to think that I’m a fairly aggressive skier, and I like to ride my bike to condition. Cycling targets all of the muscle groups in your legs. And I do multiple reps of squats on a stability ball, which is basically half a medicine ball with a hard surface to stand on. I also do wall sits and lunges to keep my legs in shape for ski season. Do some research online or consult a professional trainer for how to properly do these exercises. A solid leg workout, specific to skiing, will really do your knees some good when it comes time to shred.
Proper Ski Form
Knee pain is also a direct result of improper ski form. Too many people ski in the backseat, which can cause a lot of pain in your knees and strain your quadriceps. Your knees, hips, and ankles should also be in line with each other. Standing with your legs hip-distance apart, squat down with a plum-line in the middle of your knee. The plum line should fall in line with your big toe. If it doesn’t, correct the position of your legs and practice squatting with this corrected form every day to make it a subconscious movement or muscle memory.
Take a ski lesson. It may be expensive, but having a second set of eyes on you while you ski is a great way to improve your form. Most ski resorts have trained instructors that love to make people better skiers. And spending some money now on a ski lesson is probably better than spending money later on an injury.
Common Knee Issues
Below I’ve outlined a short list of common types of knee pain and possible remedies. There are more causes of knee pain than just the ones outlined—many more. So once again, this is not a place to self-diagnose. If you’re having persistent knee pain, then try conditioning properly, check your form, and consult your doctor.
- Pain behind the knee cap/Patellar pain
Patellar Pain can happen when you’re riding in the backseat too much. Assess and correct your ski form to mitigate this type of knee pain.
- Pain on the inside of the knee at the joint line
This type of pain is caused by forcing your skis to turn by pivoting your ankle and knee. A ski instructor is usually good at spotting improper form and will help you make corrections.
- Pain behind the knee
Proper balance is huge—especially when skiing in varied terrain. Practicing good form and balance will relieve stress on your ligaments and tendons.
- Pain below the knee on the outside
When transitioning from fast snow to slushy, slow snow in the spring, your body momentum overcomes the speed of your skis as they dramatically slow down. Work your hamstrings and use a stability ball to strengthen your knees.
Additional Information Sources
Two great articles gave me a lot of insight on knee pain and its causes: one from Men’s Fitness and another from Strong Skier*. I also interviewed a ski instructor and friend at Deer Valley—one of the best—who has given me lessons in the past. Check these articles out and more; there are tons of great educational pieces on knee pain on the inter-web.
*This blog was originally published in 2014 and based upon articles found on Men’s Fitness and Strong Skier, which are no longer live.
By Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist
This post was updated on August 24, 2022.