Snowboard InjuriesUsing my unfortunate experience to help others!

Katie Blundell


2 years ago in News

Injuries suck. Fact. With the amazing sport of snowboarding, there is unfortunately a chance of snowboard injuries. You can take precautions to minimise risk but sometimes you are just plain unlucky. I have had my fair share of snowboard injuries during my time snowboarding, but luckily (touch wood), none that have been career ending.

There have been a few people asking me about snowboard injuries recently, particularly knee ones, so I thought this could be a good subject to write about. Knee injuries seem to be very common in snowboarding. Everyone has a different experience and a totally different road to recovery. This is about my experience and things I found that helped me.

The Story of My ACL

There have been a few scary head injures with hospitalisation, but I feel my worst injury (in terms of the longest recovery) in snowboarding has been tearing my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and Meniscus in New Zealand in 2007.

The Injury

My boyfriend (now husband, so can’t have been that bad!), myself and our mate Dave were spending the season in Wanaka, NZ. We were lapping the Cardrona park. It was only the 2nd run in and I was hitting an up-hill box with a drop off. I went all squiffy on the top doing a 50/50 (not even gnarly) and came off weird and heavy on my toe edge. I didn’t even really fall. However, I heard a “pop” in my knee. Intense pain. Then the pain started to ease and I tried to stand up. It was like nothing was there to hold my knee together and it was like jelly. My boyfriend was yelling to “hurry up”, but I couldn’t move. I think he thought I was being a drama queen!

Little did I know at that moment snowboarding would be over for 18 months. I always think it’s so funny how your life can totally change in a split second. What if I had decided to hit a different feature, what if someone was in front of me and I couldn’t hit it, what if I had decided to not come riding that day. But for whatever reason, it was my turn to be unlucky that day.

Diagnosis

To be honest at the start, I wasn’t that bothered that I was hurt. It really hadn’t sunk in and initially it’s all a bit surreal, like you’re in a dream (or was that the painkillers?!). My main concern, as they were cutting my snowboard pants off, was that I hadn’t shaved my legs in at least 6 weeks (It was bloody cold in NZ) and there were 3 young male doctors crowding around my hairy canary legs!

I thought I would be back riding after a few days of ice and rest. I was actually really enjoying all the attention, people making me cups of tea and bringing me biscuits; my boyfriend was being super nice! I had lots of professionals check me out, but it was decided I would need an MRI scan to know for sure what was going on. We had heard that the waiting lists in the UK for an MRI on the NHS were really long, so we decided to hang around in NZ to get the scan.

On crutches in New Zealand

MRI confirmed, total rupture of the ACL and a huge bucket handle tear of meniscus. I was pretty gutted at this point. They said if they couldn’t “save” the meniscus I would have trouble snowboarding again. Then I cried. A Lot.

Operations

Flying back to the UK was horrendous. The flight was so full, there were no spare seats to keep my leg elevated. I ended up having to rest it on my boyfriend’s lap for the full 30 hours. I’m sure this didn’t help my injury or relationship. Back in the UK I told a little white lie and said that I was a professional snowboarder (I could literally do 50/50s and 180s at the time!) and that I needed it operated on quickly to get back to “work”.

I had my first surgery in September to repair the meniscus, which they just about managed to save, THANK GOD. Then the second surgery just before Christmas to repair my ACL. I was in a lot of pain after the first surgery, more so than after the second, so the 3 months in-between the operations were the worst part of it all.

I was at uni in Nottingham at the time and my tutors tried to get me to defer for a year to recover (it was my final year), but in my head I thought ” well I might as well do uni if I can’t snowboard anyway”. So I did pretty much of my final year at uni on crutches whilst rehabilitating my knee. Actually, helped with less partying and more focus on my work as I couldn’t go anywhere. In hindsight, I think it was the best possible time to get injured.

Recovery

I spent 7 months in total on crutches, but you adapt. I was pretty fast, I had stickers on them and I could do tricks with them. A couple of times, I even went out clubbing with them and went onto the podium and used them as glow sticks!

I cannot emphasise enough how important physio is. I luckily found a sport-specific one and saw her once a week for a while. At the start I couldn’t even move my leg. I had lost so much muscle that it looked like a little hairy chicken leg. I had a Tens machine to stimulate the muscle and cranked right up as I did my uni work in my bed. I was on the top floor on a 3-story student house so actually lost loads of weight as I struggled to get to the kitchen. These few months were actually a really dark time for me. Especially since my boyfriend was away doing a season.

When I became more mobile things became brighter. I did LOADS of work in the gym with specific workouts. A million hours on a bike, even bought one for the living room (hands down the best thing for knee recovery). I did physio at least 3 times a day at home and walked (still with crutches) everywhere. I did work in the pool, kicking with floats and running in the water. I was so determined that as soon as uni was finished I wanted to try and do a summer season again. But alas, all my hard work and my silly knee wasn’t ready. You get so many knock backs. But at least I could walk like a normal person by now and didn’t have to drink a cup of tea at the kettle as I couldn’t carry it to the sofa with crutches. It’s the little things.

Getting Back

December 15th was my first day back on a board – a year and a half later. I had custom made carbon fibre knee braces for BOTH knees (you know, just in case). They were Aqua (I wanted the leopard print). First turns were in Tignes and I thought I was going to puke. But it was OK and definitely more of a psychological challenge than physical. I rode for half an hour the first day, took a couple of days off, an hour the next time, then just carried on increasing it. Physio before and after riding each day and before bed. I took it really really slow. I had done so much gym work specific to snowboarding, but the best exercise to help it for snowboarding, was snowboarding itself. I went back to the park and everything was slowly coming back. However, I was A LOT more careful now, not just launching myself off things thinking I was invincible. I did warm up laps religiously. I considered things a lot more, took progression in stages and focused on correct technique. Weirdly It was that season that things actual began to happen for me snowboard wise. I think the injury made me a better rider. I had also realised the importance of keeping your body strong to withstand falls and prevent injuries.

1st park day after ACL reconstruction in Tignes

The question I always get asked the most was “did it put me off snowboarding?”. No Way! If anything, the time away from it had made me realise how much I loved it and how I wanted to make it my life. I realised I wanted to live in the mountains and snowboard full time.

Now

In general, my knee feels good nowadays. The more I keep it moving and the more exercise I do, the better it feels. I find at the start of a season it will hurt again, but after a couple of days it will be fine. Certain things can make it “niggle”, so I just try and stay away from them. Sometimes I might just do an awkward movement and it might hurt (did it carrying out the washing last week!). Running on hard surfaces is the worst for it. Snowboarding wise, the park is actually the least strenuous place. Slow twisting movements or riding over uneven snow ie: moguls can be painful. A hard day riding powder can tweak it too but totally worth it! After 5 years of wearing carbon fibre braces, I have now downgraded to material ones with small hinges. This was mainly because I wanted to wear skinnier pants! I do a lot of others sports (wakeboarding, skating, gymnastics, gym work, dancing) so all in all, it doesn’t hold me back, but I am always aware of it. There was a point where it became my “strong knee’. I chipped my knee cap in the other one. So painful. But the new knee came into its own to help with the chipped one. The thing I do have to consider nowadays is footwear if I’m on my feet for a long time. I have been known to wear crocs (shhhh). But sometimes your body’s well-being is more important than fashion!

My knee injury really did (and still does) put life into perspective for me. I try not to take things for granted (I can walk!) and I am so grateful that my body allows me to do things I love.

Top Tips

  • PUSH the NHS to get your a scan or an appointment. Go on cancellation lists and pester them. Othrwise you will be waiting for ages.
  • Research your surgeon. This is your life, your body.
  • Take things in stages, don’t do things before you are ready
  • PHYSIO PHYSIO PHYSIO
  • Try and get a physio that is sports specific and even better, has experience of winter sports (or at least knows what snowboarding is?!)
  • Don’t be defeated by knock backs, it’s part of the journey to recovery
  • Celebrate in the little things e.g. when you can first bend you knee again
  • Mental recovery is just as important as physical. Be aware of it
  • You might be scared to snowboard again, but try to trust in your body, your new knee and your ability. You’ve got this!
  • Don’t torture yourself e.g. go on Facebook/ Instagram and look at snowboarding. I found it better to just disconnect from it completely
  • Get another hobby to distract yourself. I learnt to crochet hats and immersed myself in my uni work
  • Talk to/ hang out with others that are injured, it feels better when you’re not alone and you can hang out and take painkillers together
  • Try to focus on positives rather than negatives (can have a lie in rather than having to get up early to ride, can finally catch up with all those series on Netflix, people will bring you chocolate)
  • There will be highs and lows, just try and roll with it and know that the dark days are followed by brighter days
  • Don’t ever give up hope, you WILL get back to doing what you love