Course Setting as a Prevention Measure for Overuse Injuries of the Back in Alpine Ski Racing: A Kinematic and Kinetic Study of Giant Slalom and Slalom

Orthop J Sports Med. 2016 Feb 25;4(2):2325967116630719. doi: 10.1177/2325967116630719. eCollection 2016 Feb.


Background: A combination of frontal bending, lateral bending, and torsion in the loaded trunk has been suggested to be a mechanism leading to overuse injuries of the back in Alpine ski racing. However, there is limited knowledge about the effect of course setting on the aforementioned back-loading patterns.

Purpose: To investigate the effect of increased gate offset on the skier's overall trunk kinematics and the occurring ground-reaction forces and to compare these variables between the competition disciplines giant slalom (GS) and slalom (SL).

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Ten top-level athletes were divided into GS and SL groups. Both groups performed a total of 240 GS and 240 SL turns at 2 different course settings. The overall trunk movement components (frontal bending, lateral bending, and torsion angle) were measured using 2 inertial measurement units fixed on the sacrum and sternum. Total ground-reaction forces were measured by pressure insoles.

Results: In SL, ground-reaction force peaks were significantly lower when the gate offset was increased, while in GS, no differences between course settings were observed. During the turn phase in which the highest spinal disc loading is expected to occur, the back-loading patterns in both GS and SL included a combination of frontal bending, lateral bending, and torsion in the loaded trunk. SL was characterized by shorter turns, lower frontal and lateral bending angles after gate passage, and a trend toward greater total ground-reaction force peaks compared with GS.

Conclusion: Course setting is a reasonable measure to reduce the skier's overall back loading in SL but not in GS. The distinct differences observed between GS and SL should be taken into account when defining discipline-specific prevention measures for back overuse injuries.

Clinical relevance: To reduce the magnitude of the overall back loading, in SL, minimal gate offsets should be avoided. Prevention measures in GS might particularly need to control and/or reduce the magnitude of frontal and lateral bending in the loaded trunk, whereas prevention measures in SL might especially need to mitigate the short and high total ground-reaction force peaks.

Keywords: athletes; back pain; injury prevention; overuse injuries; skiing; spine.