Lindsey Vonn – exceptional athlete, not so exceptional injury

Lindsey Vonn’s talent and fearlessness on a ski slope may be quite rare, but unfortunately, her recent knee injury is a little more common.

The defending Olympic downhill gold medalist and winner of four World Cup overall titles crashed February 5 when her knee gave way as she landed after a jump in a Super-G race on the opening day of the alpine skiing world championships in Schladming, Austria. The extent of her injuries were described this way:

“According to U.S. Ski Team medical director Kyle Wilkens, Vonn suffered a torn [anterior cruciate ligament] and [medial collateral ligament] in her right knee an a lateral tibial plateau fracture,” the team said in a statement.

Dr. Thomas Fyda of Great Basin Orthopaedics says ACL and MCL tears are pretty common among skiers and other athletes. Based in Reno, Nevada, a sports mecca surround by the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe, Dr. Fyda has seen hundreds of similar injuries in both extreme and recreational athletes over the years. “The knees are very vulnerable in sports where there is a need to constantly pivot and change direction,” says Dr. Fyda. “To a certain extent, you can guard against injury with caution, good form, and by keeping an eye out for obstacle, but in elite competition, at those speeds, a very small error is magnified and the knee can undergo extreme stress.”

The lateral tibial fracture that Vonn also experienced is not quite as common a sports injury as the ligament tears, but was likely a result of the tremendous impact her knee took during the crash. Dr. Fyda says recovery from an injury like this varies from patient to patient, but could take as long as a year. “We like to give knee ligaments at least six months to fully heal before we advise the patient to return to full activity, and fractures of this nature complicate the treatment and rehabilitation.”

Injuries hit exceptional athletes the same way they hit the rest of us, and only time will tell how well, and how quickly, she can recover. Unfortunately, the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi will not wait.

Great Basin Orthopaedics has been providing exceptional orthopaedic care to Northern Nevada since 1964. The surgeons of Great Basin Orthopaedics provide thoughtful care for patients with a variety of orthopaedic conditions with sub specialty expertise in the areas of Sports Medicine and Foot/Ankle. New patients can typically be seen within a week.