Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding are loved by people all over all the world for the speed and exhilaration they bring. But a risk of injury does come with the territory.
Whatever type of snow sport you enjoy, read on to see how you can bounce back from an ankle injury and get back to the activity you love.
What are the most common ankle injuries caused by skiing?
Although ski boots are very protective, the ankle is not immune to injury while skiing.
Some of the most common ligament and tendon injuries can happen while skiing too, such as:
- Achilles tendon rupture
If this tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, is over-stretched it can tear. A partial tear is incredibly rare, so damage should be presumed to be a complete rupture. This injury sometimes comes with a popping or snapping sound. People often mistakenly believe the damage ‘can’t be too bad’ if they can still stand or move the foot.
- Sprained ligaments
The ligaments support the ankle, holding the different bones together. They can be damaged as the result of a twist or sprain. The ankle is swollen, bruised and painful initially. Later it can feel weak and wobbly. Up to 40% of ankle sprains do not fully recover, so it is important not to underestimate a ‘simple sprain’.
- Ankle fractures
Breaking one or more of the bones in the ankle joint can be an issue that ranges from mild to severe. Painful swelling and bruising, and a limited ability to bear weight could be signs of a fracture. It is a good idea to have an x-ray – though sometimes standard Accident & Emergency x-rays are falsely reassuring.
With people who enjoy skiing and other snow activities there are also some more specific ankle injuries:
- Peroneal tendon injuries
With downhill skiing, a common complaint is to have issues with the tendons on the outer side of the ankle, called the peroneal tendons. These tendons work very hard while ‘edging’ and this can lead to ankle pain and swelling, caused by wear and tear.
- ‘Snowboarder’s fracture’
Snowboarders involved in an impact can sustain this fracture of the ankle bone (called the talus) which is on the lower section of the ankle joint. This injury is often difficult to detect in an ordinary x-ray – it needs to be looked at by a specialist and may need an MRI scan. If not healed properly it can lead to complications further down the line.
- Ski-touring injury
These days more and more people are indulging in ski touring, which involves walking uphill on skis, and skiing down.
The skins attached to skis for this sport enable you to slide forward without slipping back – however, as with snowboarding, this comes with a different set of potential injuries. When the rear of the boot is not fixed to the ski there is a risk of twisting injuries. When catching a long ski on a turn or in a fall, the violent twist that ensues can lead to significant ligament injuries or fractures.
- ‘Burning balls’
Ski boots have to be secure around the foot and ankle, but being strapped in so tightly can cause – or aggravate – pain in the ball of the foot. This pain is commonly referred to as ‘burning balls’. If this is still a problem even after careful boot-fitting, there could be a problem with your foot that needs to be checked out by a specialist.
What are the treatment options available?
As with most ankle injuries, treatment very much depends on the individual and the severity of the problem.
The options will range from simply getting the right footbeds (supports, or insoles) for your ski boots, to needing a biomechanical evaluation and some physiotherapy sessions. In the more serious cases, injections or surgery will be recommended.
Snowboarder’s fracture and peroneal tendon injuries are the most tricky to diagnose which makes it really important to get the right scans, and the best analysis, from a specialist who has experience in this field. The treatment required will depend on the gravity of the injury.
How long will recovery take – can I ski again?
If you’ve suffered from one of the common ski injuries, you’ll almost certainly be able to recover and return to the slopes again!
Inevitably, your recovery time depends on the type of injury and how it’s being treated.
It’s important to mention that for many people injured while enjoying skiing or other snow sports, the first thing that will probably happen is they’ll go to a clinic at the ski resort.
But there are very few injuries of this kind that need to be treated straight away. It could be advisable to get your ankle wrapped up well and fly home, where you can seek treatment at a more convenient location.
Opting for treatment abroad, such as surgery, means you’ll have to stay there until you are fit to travel again. It can also lead to a lot of costs that you might not have anticipated.
What should I do next?
You want to return to skiing as soon as possible, so don’t leave it to chance! It’s vital to consult a specialist so you get the right diagnosis and a tailored treatment programme that will help you achieve your personal goal.
Search for a specialist who has a track record of dealing with ankle injuries.
At Wimbledon Clinics we have experienced foot and ankle specialists and a team of ski specialists with unrivalled experience in treating both amateur and top pro-skiers.
Our Tuesday morning Ski Injury Clinic – which runs through the winter months from January to April – is perfectly equipped to treat skiers of every standard.
The clinic also runs an annual Return from Injury Ski Day, prior to the ski season.
If you think you may have an ankle injury and need advice and specialist treatment, then contact us today and we’ll put together a clear strategy for treatment and recovery, so you can be back to your best as soon as possible.
Call us on:
0208 944 0665
or email us at: [email protected]
Foot and ankle specialist: Mr Matt Solan