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January 18, 2010

Skiing Easier On Achondroplasic Legs?

We were watching Little People, Big World today, and the Roloff's were skiing. Matt, the father who has achondroplasic dwarfism, was saying that skiing was easier on his legs than simply standing for a half hour. This was surprising to me.

Upon discussion, the amount of rest in proportion to skiing reflected a disproportionate amount of seated resting time. Standing, on the other hand, requires constant downward force from gravity on the joints of the lower extremities. And in Matt Roloff's case, he has had extensive surgeries since childhood to address problems with his legs.

But this conversation made me think about the problem of standing from the perspective of my physical therapy education. I don't know what structural changes are typical of achondroplasia, but I do know what muscle activation is necessary for standing and for skiing.

When we ski, the lower leg position is held in a squat which increases the workload for the quadriceps muscle group. Upright standing posture requires strength and length in the extensor muscles of the lower extremities, such as the hamstrings. Since Roloff ambulates with crutches in a bent knee position, it is conceivable that his hamstrings are likely short and possibly weaker because of his condition, surgeries, and/or functional usage pattern.

Also, given the compact nature of his musculature, he may also have an advantage in his quaduceps muscles for short, powerful burst of energy needed for skiing. So, I believe it is true, what he says about skiing compared to just simply standing. I also would not be surprised if he has chronic low back pain because of a muscle imbalance. I don't know if Mr. Roloff is currently engaging in physical therapy or a maintenance program, but I suspect focusing on his hamstrings would be beneficial for him. I would start by recommending core strengthening, stretching to lengthen the hamstrings, and squats with a focus on controlled leg extension to increase function while stair climbing and walking.

I have to admit that I like Matt Roloff. His indomitable spirit is engaging. To see someone who has been through so much hop on skis while relying on crutches to walk is inspirational. We could all learn a lesson about living life as large as he does.

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Posted by linda at January 18, 2010 12:41 PM

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