By Adam Bitterman, DO
Fellow, Foot and Ankle Surgery
Rush University Medical Center
and Johnny Lin, MD
Assistant Professor, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush
Rush University Medical Center
- Snowboarding is growing in popularity, especially amongst young people
- Lightweight boards with less rigid boots lead to faster speeds, with an increase in injury risk
- Injuries to the foot and ankle with snowboarding may include fractures, sprains, and tendon injuries.
- Most injuries can be successfully treated but will require accurate diagnosis and treatment from your doctor
As snowboarding continues to grow in popularity, so too does the number of injuries sustained. According to a 2010 report, there were nearly 8.2 million people who snowboard versus 11.5 million who participated in skiing. Currently, there are younger and younger participants snowboarding and therefore more accidents and injuries each year. The surge in injuries from snowboarding may be due to it being a relatively new sport and the inexperienced beginners are more prone to hurting themselves. Yet, some believe that it may be the experienced snowboarder who is more at risk since they are likely to take risks and attempt to navigate more challenging slopes1.
As the sport has evolved so too has the equipment. Lightweight boards and boots have resulted in faster speeds traveling down the more challenging slopes ? another reason for the surge in these injuries2. Less rigid boots lead to less support around ankle and foot, thus resulting in ankle and foot sprains, strains and fractures.
Landing from a jump may lead to the foot being rotated inward or outward as it sustains an upward force from the ground. These rotational forces combined with the upward force from the ground impact may result in a break. Ankle fractures may involve the tibia (shin bone) or the talus. The tibia bone may have a single break or breaks at multiple sites. The inside of the ankle, also known as the medial malleolus could be fractured or the outside may have sustained the force, which would lead to a lateral malleolus fracture. In regards to the talus bone, snowboarders are at increased risk of breaking their lateral process, commonly referred to as the ‘snowboarders fracture’.
Treatment of these ankle injuries depends on the type of break and the amount of displacement of the bone pieces. Fractures with significant distance between the bone fragments are usually best treated with surgery. By doing this, the broken segments are realigned in their normal anatomic position and fixated with appropriate implants. In cases where there are small fragments or too many to address individually, the decision may be made to leave them alone and allow them to heal and incorporate in their current position. Nonoperative management may also be chosen for ankle fractures that have little to no displacement. This decision will be made in close consultation with your doctor.
Generally these injuries are rehabilitated with nonweightbearing using crutches with the length of time being dependent on the specific treatment. Functional physical therapy may be needed to help return the individual to their baseline activity level. Once again, each individual situation is different and you’ll discuss specifics with your doctor.
Injuries to the foot or ankle that do not lead to a break may be the result of overuse and repetitive stress on a particular area. These injuries can be contusions, sprains or stretching of ligaments, or strains due to tendon inflammation. Appropriate treatment will likely include a period of rest and immobilization of the painful ankle while the painful process resolves on its own.
- Ishimaru D, Ogawa H, Sumi H, Sumi Y, Shimizu K. Lower extremity injuries in snowboarding. J Trauma. 2011;70(3):E48-E52.
- Mahmood B, Duggal N. Lower extremity injuries in snowboarders. Am J Orthop (Belle Mead NJ). 2014.43(11):502-5.