Alpine skiing, both recreational and competitive, is associated with high rates of injury. Numerous studies have shown that occupational exposure to whole-body vibrations is strongly related to lower back pain and some suggest that, in particular, vibrations of lower frequencies could lead to overuse injuries of the back in connection with alpine ski racing. However, it is not yet known which forms of skiing involve stronger vibrations and whether these exceed safety thresholds set by existing standards and directives. Therefore, this study was designed to examine whole-body vibrations connected with different types of skiing and the associated potential risk of developing low back pain. Eight highly skilled ski instructors, all former competitive ski racers and equipped with five accelerometers and a Global Satellite Navigation System to measure vibrations and speed, respectively, performed six different forms of skiing: straight running, plowing, snow-plow swinging, basic swinging, short swinging, and carved turns. To estimate exposure to periodic, random and transient vibrations the power spectrum density (PSD) and standard ISO 2631-1:1997 parameters [i.e., the weighted root-mean-square acceleration (RMS), crest factor, maximum transient vibration value and the fourth-power vibration dose value (VDV)] were calculated. Ground reaction forces were estimated from data provided by accelerometers attached to the pelvis. The major novel findings were that all of the forms of skiing tested produced whole-body vibrations, with highest PSD values of 1.5-8 Hz. Intensified PSD between 8.5 and 35 Hz was observed only when skidding was involved. The RMS values for 10 min of short swinging or carved turns, as well as all 10-min equivalent VDV values exceeded the limits set by European Directive 2002/44/EC for health and safety. Thus, whole-body vibrations, particularly in connection with high ground reaction forces, contribute to a high risk for low back pain among active alpine skiers.
Keywords: biomechanics; injury prevention; kinematics; kinetics; recreational skiing; shock; ski racing.