Dr. George and Ankles

3#4 Dr. George


I was in my home village in Scoul, Switzerland, riding with friends. It was a normal day, sunny and relaxing. It had snowed around 30 centimeters the night before, and we were tracking it out fast.

Early in the afternoon, I decided to straight line in a chute, which I had done before on numerous occasions. Unaware of the frozen avalanche debris that was hidden by the new snow, I dropped in and pointed it. About halfway down, when I was really going fast, I experienced a hard thud under my board and a quick shearing knife-like pain in my front ankle. I stayed upright, and rode to the lift, but I knew that my day of riding was over.

That evening swelling appeared, and my mobility was reduced. These are two things that no snowboarder needs in February–the middle of a potentially great season. I was left with only two choices, take up to two months off of snowboarding because ankles are a bitch to heal, or find a solution that would allow me to remain on my board during the healing period. That's when good old Dr. George came along.–Dani Kiwi Meier

Ankle injuries are the leading injury among soft-boot snowboarders and amount to roughly 28 percent of all snowboarding injuries.

Ankle sprains usually occur when you exceed the range of motion of your ankle while jumping or doing tricks, but they can also happen under normal riding conditions. Usually your lateral ligament complex (anterior fibula talar ligaments or the ligaments that run side to side) is the most affected.

Here is the reason why:

Your ankle joint consists of two articulations (two ways that the joint interrelates) that allow different types of movement. The joint between your shin bone and the talar bone (ankle joint) moves your foot only up and down, while the joint between your talar bone and heelbone (subtalar joint) allows only internal and external rotation. If you make an internal rotation over the exceeded range of motion of your subtalar joint, you dramatically increase the tension of the lateral ligaments that stabilize your ankle joint. Due to the high velocity of an impact, your muscle system is too slow to counterreact, which usually results in a rupture of these ligaments.

How do I know I've injured my ankle?

A sure sign is sharp pain with immediate swelling on the outside of your ankle. If this happens, immediately stop riding, and apply ice to the swelling. Never put heat on a sprained ankle, it will only make things worse. Remember to RICE your injury: “R” standing for rest, “I” for ice, “C” for compression, and “E” for elevation.

Today, most ankle sprains are treated without surgery and heal within six to eight weeks. In any case, if you sustain an injury, see your doctor as soon as possible. An untreated ankle sprain can lead to a permanent ligament instability.

What can you do to avoid ligament sprains?

Due to the flex of soft boots, torsional forces are often transmitted to unprotected ligaments. Good quality boots and bindings are essential to preventing injuries, especially if you use step-ins; with step-ins torsional forces are directly transmitted to your feet due to the rigid fixation between board and boot. Boots shouldn't be too soft and should have reinforcements that protect the fragile ankle anatomy. An ankle stabilization system (a wrap or brace) can also help to reduce the risk of an injury, even if they can't completely prevent them.

The muscles of the foot are important in protecting your ankle against injuries. Boots that are too stiff decrease the counter reaction forces of your muscles and inevitably weaken them. Always tighten your boots and bindings properly, making sure that you have a good fit. If you have weak ankles, a program of specific muscle training under the guidance of physiotherapy can increase muscular counter reaction forces.

Note: Never snowboard in ski boots–the injury risk more than doubles.

These pictures show Dani demonstrating how to strengthen your ankle muscles.

First picture: Stand on a stair with one foot and do calf push-ups, lifting and lowering the foot. Use the first step (not the last step) of the stairs, and don't forget to hold the handrail for balance! Repeat with the other leg.
Second picture: Attach a weight of about three pounds to your foot, and lift and lower the foot sideways. Repeat with the other foot.