How Pilates helped me recover from a knee injury

This time last year, I was in Switzerland enjoying the first few days of a ski holiday with my family.

Unfortunately, the ski was cut short after 3 days when I hurt my knee while skiing down a beautiful off-piste slope covered in fresh powder. Because of the gnarly terrain I couldn’t be taken down the mountain on a sledge and I had to be lifted off by helicopter.

This could have been a quite exciting experience, I had never been on an helicopter before, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I was too angry with myself and annoyed at this knee that keeps failing me to enjoy the helicopter ride to the hospital.

The injury turned out to be minor: a sprained Medial Collateral Ligament and a bruise on the tibia bone.

“You were lucky, it could have been much worse”, said the doctor.

“Bof”, I shrugged.

And there I was, immobilised for 3 months again: this was the second time I hurt my knee skiing. But this time, I was determined to take matters into my own hands and make sure I recovered fast and well.

Skiing and the knees

A lot of skiing knee injuries involve the ligaments, the bands of tissue that hold the bones of the thigh and the bones of the calf together at the knee. The knee joint has four major ligaments, briefly: the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, the posterior Cruciate Ligament, the Medial Collateral ligament and the Lateral collateral ligament.

These ligaments easily sprain during strenuous physical exercise involving sudden stops, twists, pivot or change of direction at the knee or direct impact to the side of the knee of course.

And we all agree, skiing does involve a lot of sudden stops, twists and pivots, sometimes all at the same time!

At first, my doctor recommended the RICE rule: Rest the joint, Ice the injured area to reduce swelling, Compress the swelling with an elastic bandage, Elevate the injured knee.

He also prescribed wearing a knee brace for 4 weeks and taking ibuprofen to relieve the pain and ease the swelling for the first week.

Then of course I started a series of physiotherapy sessions. But my knee was hurting, I was limping and I could feel my body was getting out of balance from the moment I left the hospital. My hips started hurting, my back as well, I was a mess, but thankfully I knew what to do: get back on the mat!

Pilates to the rescue

So I did. I did whatever exercises felt good and didn’t require putting weight onto the legs. And Mat Pilates is really great because so many of the exercise are done lying down or sitting with absolutely no pressure onto the legs. And even the seated exercises can be modified if they cause too much strain on the knees.

On my mat, I could keep working my abdominals and back muscles – absolutely necessary to avoid lower back pain and shoulder pain.

I could stretch my hip and thigh muscles on the supporting leg – extremely tense from the added weight and the limping and skipping.

I could strengthen my quadriceps muscles: the muscles of the anterior thigh that connect to and control the area all around the knee – essential to avoid recurring knee pain.

To avoid pain in the knee the quadriceps need to be balanced, and the muscles on both the inside and the outside of the thigh need to be worked equally. (I have probably always had an imbalance in my thigh muscles as most dancers do from so much emphasis on the turned-out position in ballet and contemporary dance.)

And slowly, by doing sometimes just 10 minutes of Pilates per day, stretching and strengthening the parts of my body that I felt needed it, my knee got better. I could move better, with less pain. And I felt better, less stressed, less anxious, less frustrated by the immobility.

I could go back to work – I started teaching again, I walked, I kept active, which I think helped immensely.

And after 8 weeks, my knee was back to normal!

And here I am, a year later, back on my skis 🙂

Have you got a knee injury or knee pain that is bothering you? Would you like to try Pilates and find out how you could benefit from it? Get in touch! I might be able to help.