Snowshoeing with a Knee Injury

After a horse accident left me with a severe knee injury, I had to rethink a few of my extra-curricular activities such as: hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing just to name a few.

Chilkat Lake

Chilkat Lake playing in the snow

The impact from the horse threw me backwards, yanking my feet from the thick mud I had been standing in. As I fell to the ground I felt a “pop” under my knee cap and immediately afterward, excruciating pain.

Standing was unbearable, and being 20 miles in the backcountry, or as we call it in Alaska, (the bush) I had no choice but to ride the horse back to camp. So, with some help from others in the group I was lifted up and placed into the saddle.

Diagnosing The Injury

Two days later, I finally made it to the emergency room in town. After looking at the x-rays, the doctor told me I only had a sprain and to ice it.

For four months I walked around on it, tolerating a moderate to severe ache throughout the joint. If I stepped incorrectly or pushed off with that leg to lift myself up, I would experience a shock that felt like a jolt of electricity shooting through my knee. The pain quite often left me sitting on the ground in pain.

Eventually, I made an appointment to see a different doctor. I explained to him the pain I was experiencing, and almost immediately he knew what was wrong.

I was sent for an MRI, and a few days later I was diagnosed with a torn (ACL) or Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

Aftermath Of Injury To The ACL

The ACL supports the knee-joint and without it the knee can lock or hyperextend. This means it can extend past its normal range of motion (backwards) causing extreme pain.

The first surgery consisted of removing part of my hamstring and using it in place of my ACL. Two years later it tore again and this time my (MCL) or Medial Collateral Ligament had been severely damaged. This leads me to believe, that the MCL had been damaged in the horse accident and had slowly deteriorated along with the new ACL replacement.

The MCL works the same way as the ACL except it helps to prevent over-extension of the knee-joint from side to side.

The second surgery consisted of MCL reconstruction and another ACL replacement. This time, the replacement for the ACL was an Achilles tendon. According to everything I could find while researching, the Achilles tendon seems to be the strongest of the replacements.

After four years, two surgeries and exhaustive rehabilitation I was back on my feet. I could no longer resist the temptation to go hiking, so I began with short walks on dirt roads. I bought a bicycle and in no time at all I was riding five to seven miles a day a few times a week.

Transitioning Back To The Outdoors

On one of the last visits to the surgeon’s office, I took a knee brace in with me that the insurance company had given me. I showed it to the doctor and then expressed my concern about hiking and outdoor activities. His reaction is not what I was expecting or wanted to hear. I was told if I started climbing mountains again I would be back in his office for a third round.

Snowshoeing Idaho

Snowshoeing Idaho Christmas Day 2012

A week later his office called me and asked me to come into the office for one last visit. After examining my knee, the doctor smiled and said it was healing nicely. He then excused himself from the room and minutes later came back in with a different knee brace.

He explained what he was doing as he pulled the straps tight around my leg and secured them with Velcro. When the brace was strapped securely in place, I got up and moved around to see how it felt. The doctor explained that if I wore the brace during physical exercise it would protect my knee from any further damage. He then told me to walk out of his office with it “like you walked in with it.” I later found out that it was the best brace money could buy at the time. I will always be thankful to that doctor for all of his help.

He later gave me permission to cross-country ski with my brace on, but I decided to go with snowshoeing. When transitioning back to activity after an injury, even if starting a new sport, always check with your doctor beforehand. 

Snowshoeing With The Injury

There are several instructions and safety information to be aware of for the proper use of snowshoes. Start by making sure you get the proper size and fit for the level of activity you will be pursuing.

I find that snowshoes provide more stability with their extra wide width and length, strong bindings, and crampons, which provide maximum anti-slip and slide on any terrain.

On top of Spud Hill in Idaho. I couldn't do this without the brace on my leg.

On top of Spud Hill in Idaho. I couldn’t do this without the brace on my leg.

Snowshoe poles help to stabilize the upper body and build strength. If used properly, poles can take a significant amount of pressure off of the knees, particularly when descending steep areas. Poles should be fitted to your body size for proper use. Typically, it’s recommended to adjust the pole length so your elbows are at a 90 degree angle when walking.

The first year I really began snowshoeing, I started out going on short jaunts across the golf course. Eventually I was going further and further, and by the middle of the winter I was able to climb in them. Slowly building up to more extreme snowshoeing can help to prevent injury and pain, from overuse.

About the author

Angela Goodwin

I love Alaska! Everything that I like to do is right here in this great place. So just to let you know I will be on vacation for the rest of my life. Photography, writing, fishing and snowshoeing are among my favorite things to do, and it all goes together. Anywhere I go and anything I do, I can take my camera along and when I get back from whatever adventure I am on, I can write about it. Then I can send it off to you to read. So, Enjoy!

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  • Thanks for this. I’ve had a fulkerson osteotomy and mcl recon done too and am moving to snowy Canada soon. Been worried at the prospect of not being able yo exercise 8 months a year whole its snowy and icy outside. Have a knee brace as well so I’ll give snowshoeing and cross country skiing a go! Thanks again… Was helpful!

    • Hi Justin, Keep moving, that is the best medicine. I was told to go on disability fifteen eighteen years ago, however, I am still working and still snowshoeing.

  • Thank You Sherry, When a person reads something like that it seems to make you relive it in your mind.

    I enjoy reading your articles on Maine too, it has been years since I was there, but I remember the coast vividly.

  • Hi Angela, I enjoyed (?) you account of the ACL adventures. I, too, “did” my ACL, left knee, back in 1992. I was on top of Copper Mountain, Colorado, about to take the last run down before lunch, last day on vacation. I was doing nothing, when suddenly, as I began my descent, my ski tips crossed and voila, that popping sensation. Yowsers! Agony, more agony getting down, to the clinic I went and home next day on the ski train to Illinois in a knee brace. I did recover but full recovery took years. Great article!

  • You don’t let a little thing like a torn ACL/MCL slow you down you Sourdough Alaskan you. I am glad for that…and glad to hear there are good Dr.’s in the world. Good News! Keep em coming Angie!