Is Skiing Or Snowboarding Easier On Your Ankles? (Stiff vs Flexible Boots)

by Robert Stanley | Posted On: July 15th, 2022
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Both skiing and snowboarding can strengthen your bones, joints, and muscles. But there are risks with both sports, especially with your ankles. So are snowboarders or skiers more at risk? 

Snowboarders are particularly prone to ankle sprains and fractures. In fact, a lateral talus fracture is known as a “snowboarder’s ankle” since it is rarely sustained in another way. Soft boots are more comfortable to walk in and make you feel more flexible, but they leave you more vulnerable to injury.

Medical Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

How Skiing Can Harm Your Foot & Ankle

Both skiing and snowboarding are high-speed sports that require you to make quick turns while going fast down a slope. This puts a lot of stress on your ankles and feet.

When you turn quickly, your foot usually flattens, but the bones in your ankles move down. Your leg also rotates toward the other leg, putting a lot of stress on your legs and hips. Even with all that pressure, your feet and ankles shouldn’t hurt after a day on the slopes, as long as nothing goes wrong.

If your ankles or feet are sore, cold, or hurt when you get to the lodge, your ski boots may need to be adjusted, refitted, or replaced. But your skiing style could also be a factor.

Common Snowboarding and Skiing Foot Injuries

Skier’s Toe (Subungual Hematoma)

Alpine Touring Ski

If the toe box of your ski boots is too tight or too short, it can put pressure on your toenails, which can lead to a subungual hematoma. This is a bruise under the toenail, which makes the nail look black and can cause painful pressure to build up. This is easy to avoid if you wear well-padded socks and give your boots enough room in the toe box.

Neuroma

A neuroma could also happen because your boots are too tight, especially in the toe box. This nerve injury usually occurs between the third and fourth toes in the ball of the foot. It can cause pain, tingling, or even numbness over time. Make sure your bindings and boots give your toes enough space to move around and feel comfortable.

Ankle Sprains

night skier

It may seem strange to think that you can still sprain your ankle in the heavy, high boots you need for skiing and snowboarding, but this is a common winter sports injury. Skiers get sprains when they land on the outside of their foot and twist or bend inward.

Because skis can be turned sideways while snowboards can’t, ankle sprains are also common for skiers to sustain. Ankle sprains can also be caused by boots that don’t fit right and have gaps around the ankle.

Blisters

Even though it’s not the worst thing that could happen, a painful blister in the wrong place is the only thing that can ruin a day of skiing. Sores, bruises, and blisters can occur when thin socks rub against boots that are too tight or the wrong shape. Make sure that your boots fit well and don’t hurt anywhere. Don’t borrow boots from a friend, and try out the ones you rent before you hit the slopes.

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Fractures

woman enjoy skiing

When skiing or snowboarding, you can break your foot or ankle, which is a bit more serious. Most of the time, these happen when people or things run into each other or when jumps and tricks don’t work out. Too tight bindings and boots can make you more likely to break a bone.

Don’t worry. You can still go skiing at your favorite place in the winter without worrying about these injuries. Just make sure you have the right gear, use good judgment when choosing your slopes, and see your podiatrist before the ski season starts to ensure your feet and ankles are healthy.

Taking Necessary Precautions

1. Do your ski boots fit correctly, and are they right for your skill level?

Couple Skiing
Photo by Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

When you ski, your boots are the most essential piece of gear because you move by moving your feet and ankles. They should have a lot of support and still be flexible enough to let your ankle bend forward and to the side. If your ski boots are too stiff or too soft for your ankle strength and skill, your ankle will move in a way that hurts.

If your ski boots don’t fit right, your foot can move around inside them. This is called ankle and heel slop. When boots are too big, even just a little bit, the ankle sits too low in relation to where the ankle pocket is supposed to be.

This affects how skiers turn. Again, this leads to bad movement patterns that can cause pain in the ankles.

Your pain could be caused by problems with your foot or ankle, like old sports injuries that are getting worse or new conditions. Bunions and ingrown toenails can be caused by too much pressure on the toes. On the other hand, if the shoe is too loose, it won’t give you much support on the sides, which makes it more likely that you’ll twist your ankle.

2. Is your skiing technique hurting your feet?

The technique of your turn could also cause your foot or ankle pain. Skiers can make clean, controlled arcs when they smoothly start their turns. When skiers begin to turn too quickly, their movements are jerky.

This causes their ankles to hit the inside of their boots, which hurts. Start a ski turn by putting your skis on their edges slowly and gently.

3. Even if the slopes aren’t completely ready, make sure you are.

ski down slope

It’s never too late to add some exercises that will help you ski or ride better. Getting stronger, more stable, and more flexible before you hit the slopes will make it less likely that you will hurt your ankle or get hurt in other ways.

There are ski conditioning programs at many gyms, and you can also do simple exercises at home to strengthen your core, legs, and upper body.

Riders can work on their balance and ankle stability with a wobble board, for example. A medicine ball squat is good for skiers and riders because it helps build strength and endurance in the glutes, lower back, and quads.

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4. Be extra cautious in really bad weather conditions

As the Denver Post writes – and you may have noticed – that there is very little open terrain so far, and what is open is interspersed with bits of grass, rock, and ice. Even for advanced skiers and riders, uneven and slick spots can be very hard.

Anyone can catch an edge or lose their balance on spotty terrain. Not to mention the crowds.

When skiers and riders have to stop suddenly and many people are on the slopes, it’s easy for someone to hurt their ankle. Think of these early days as a warm-up for the many months of fun you’ll have on the mountain, and don’t go too fast or try anything too dangerous yet.

People in Minnesota aren’t afraid of a little bit of cold weather, so in the winter, many of them go to resorts to ski or snowboard down the mountains. As in sports, your feet are an essential part of keeping you upright and balanced.

5. Ankle Conditioning

Another good way to avoid getting hurt while skiing is to work on your ankle strength before and after you go. This can be done by stretching and working out your ankles. Stretch for a few minutes before putting on your boots to warm your ankles when you hit the hill.

When you’re done skiing for the day, don’t forget to take care of your ankle. Do some easy exercises on your feet after you take them out of the boots. They’ve been working hard all day. After that, put on comfortable shoes and give your feet a break.

6. Don’t Ski Injured

If you hurt yourself on the slopes, you shouldn’t always try to push through the pain. Even if it seems like a minor sprain, continuing to put pressure on the injured area can do significant damage to the ligaments and tendons.

If you hurt your ankle, go to the lodge and get some hot chocolate to let it rest. After some time off, if it feels better, you can ease your way back onto the slopes.

If it hurts too much, you can find something else to do on your trip to make the most of it. Get some rest in the hot tub or sauna. If you treat your injury well, you’ll give yourself the best chance of getting better quickly.

7. If You’re Tired, Call It a Day

Don’t ski or snowboard so hard until you fall. Most injuries happen when your muscles are weak and your body is tired. If you don’t have the strength to keep your shape, you’re more likely to catch a nasty edge.

Can You Ski or Snowboard On A Sprained Ankle? The Painful Facts

Any skier or snowboarder knows that a sprained ankle is terrible news. You are unsure whether you should continue snowboarding despite your injuries or whether you should give up snowboarding entirely.

Depending on how far along in your recovery, you can still ski or snowboard with the help of ankle braces which provide additional support. In the end, you would need to do functional stretching, balancing, and strengthening exercises to restabilize the spindles and ligaments in your ankle.

Before you go snowboarding again too soon, you should find out how severely your ankle is hurt and how to guard it while it heals.

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Which Level Of Ankle Pain Can You Ski On?

ankles

Even though your boots are pretty good at keeping you from getting hurt, you could still sprain your ankle if you land badly or wipe out. If that happens, you could hurt your ankle in one of three ways.

How much pressure is on the ankle determines the level, and each level takes a varying amount of healing time.

Level1

This is when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched too far. The ankle is usually swollen for the most part and hurts. It’s still possible to walk at this level, but it hurts a bit.

Level 2

This is when the ligaments in your ankle get torn, but not all the way. Most of the time, your ankle is swollen, bruised, and painful. This level of ankle pain hurts very badly.

Level 3

This indicates the total tear of a single or many ankle ligaments. Walking is difficult since your ankle is not stable, and the resulting pain is generally excruciating.

It is evident that if you have a Level 1 sprained ankle, it is the only time you should even consider snowboarding since this is when the injury is relatively minor.

You should avoid snowboarding if you have a swollen ankle until the swelling subsides. Rest, ice, compression, and examination can all assist in minimizing swelling.

As soon as swelling has receded, you can begin rehab activities to harden and release your ankle before and after you go skiing.

An extra insole in your boots can also improve your riding comfort, even helping cushion shocks during collisions.

Consider putting sock-type ankle supports inside your boots while riding. Stiff boots with a good internal harness are beneficial because they stabilize your ankle.

If you experience intense discomfort when skiing or snowboarding, it is a strong indication that it is time to stop.

When To Avoid Snowboarding With A Sprained Ankle

Snowboard Lesson

Based on the severity of your injuries, you should know when not to ski. Because the ligaments are now fragile, a minor tear in one of your ankle ligaments can lead to additional difficulties. Another heavy fall or trauma to the ankle could cause it to bend much more, resulting in severe ripping or bone chipping.

Aside from ankle sprains, another prevalent injury is “Snowboarder’s ankle.” It is caused by a fracture of the talus’s lateral process. Because of the nature of the damage, it causes severe pain in the ankle, making even walking difficult. 

Taking Care of Problems BEFORE You Hit the Slopes

While you can plan for a more enjoyable and worry-free day on the slopes, some of the best measures you can take are far in advance.

Skiing and snowboarding can be done safely if you have the proper instruction, equipment, and safety gear. However, adequate instruction is essential.

Injury can occur even if your ankle is covered in a sturdy boot and supported while on the slopes. They are most common when a skier falls. Sprains commonly develop after a landing on the outside of the foot, causing the foot to twist inward, or when a ski tip gets trapped, and the boot is not freed from the binding quickly enough.

Another common injury is a “boot top” fracture, which occurs when a skier falls and the lower leg’s tibia or fibula bones shatter at the top of the boot.

a ski helmet

Dealing With Injuries

Ankle injuries are prevalent among skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports participants. Ligament and tendon rip, strains, and muscle pulls are part of the game.

Injuries that do not improve after a few days of icing, rest, and over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen may necessitate more extensive medical attention. Consult your doctor if your pain is extreme or you cannot bear weight on your ankle.

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