Cross-Country Skiing Injuries

Cross-country skiing is a low impact activity that can be pursued either as a recreational activity or as a competitive endurance sport.  In addition, cross-country skiing utilizes most major muscle groups and provides excellent cardiovascular fitness.  Injury rates are much lower than those seen in other active pursuits such as running. A great way to enjoy our Midwest winters is to get out and ski.

Preventing Cross-Country Skiing Injuries

Here are some tips for how to avoid injury while cross-country skiing:

Dress for the weather

Dress in layers. Tthis makes it easy to remove a layer if you get warm, or add one if the temperature drops or wind picks up. Start with the base layer made of a wicking material such as polypropylene or wool and a wind- breaking outer layer. In extreme cold conditions make sure bare skin is covered. If you can no longer feel your fingers or toes, get inside to warm up as to avoid developing frostbite. Do not forget your sunscreen and sunglasses. The light reflecting off the snow, even on overcast days, can cause sunburn. 


You should drink as much during a winter activity as a summer activity. You may not feel thirsty in the colder weather, but you will be losing fluids through perspiration and respiration.

Know your terrain, skiing abilities and snow conditions

Check trail maps and ski on familiar terrain. Know which trails are easy, more difficult and most difficult. Not many traumatic injuries happen in cross-country skiing but they do occur especially when trying to ski down a steep hill in icy conditions.

Use proper technique

Proper technique will help prevent and reduce overuse injuries. If you are new, consider taking a lesson. If you have skied for years, remember, do not collapse your elbows, start your poling with an abdominal crunch and minimize your knees collapsing inward.

Common Cross-Country Skiing Injuries and Conditions

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome primarily affects individuals who tend to overuse their knees such as runners, cyclists, skiers and others whose activities involve running and jumping. It encompasses a group of conditions that impact the area surrounding the kneecap. This results in damage, strain or inflammation of the structures, which leads to pain.

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Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff is pinched between the shoulder blade and the “ball” of the ball and socket shoulder joint when the arm is raised. It can be caused by inflammation of the rotator cuff and bursa, which narrows the space between the two bones. It also can be caused by a tear on the rotator cuff. Shoulder impingement is common in athletes or individuals who use overhead motion regularly as part of sports or their job.

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Low Back Pain

The repetitive nature of cross-country skiing can contribute to low back pain, somewhat more with classic technique.  Weak hip and core muscles, improper technique and training errors all contribute. As we age, we often develop degenerative disc disease, which is another causative factor for low back pain.

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