Having a sprained ankle is bad news for any snowboarder. You are left to wonder if you should snowboard with your injury or simply stop snowboarding completely.
Depending on the stage of your recovery, it is still possible to snowboard with ankle braces for extra support. Ultimately, you would have to retrain your ankle ligaments and muscle spindles with functional strengthening, balancing, and stretching exercises.
Before you hurry back to snowboarding, you should know the grade of your ankle sprain as well as ways to protect your ankle during snowboarding while recovering.
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Which grade of ankle sprain can you snowboard on?
Your snowboarding boots are pretty effective in protecting you from injuries but it is still possible to get your ankle sprained, e.g. during a bad landing or a wipe up. Once that happens, your ankle can be injured to one out of three grades.
Each grade is determined by the amount of force on the ankle and takes a different amount of time to heal.
- Grade 1: an overstretching of the ankle ligaments. The ankle feels sore and is mostly swollen. Walking is still possible in this grade but you experience some pain.
- Grade 2: Is an incomplete tear of the ankle ligaments. The ankle is usually bruised, swollen, and tender. This grade of ankle sprain comes with intense pain.
- Grade 3: Is a complete tear of one or more ligaments in the ankle. Walking is almost impossible because the ankle is unstable and the pain is usually very intense.
It is clear that you can only think about snowboarding with a mildly sprained ankle of Grade 1. If your ankle is swollen, it is best you don’t snowboard yet until the swelling reduces. You can help reduce the swelling by practicing RICE which stands for rest, ice, compression, evaluation.
Once the swelling reduces, you can then start rehab exercises to strengthen and loosen your ankle before and after snowboarding.
As you plan to ride, consider wearing sock-type ankle braces (Amazon) inside your boots. Stiff boots with a good internal harness are helpful because they make your ankle more stable.
Having an extra insole in your boots can also make your riding more comfortable- it can even help soften shocks during impacts.
No matter what, once you start snowboarding, if you experience sharp pain that is a strong signal that it’s time to stop.
How does a sprained ankle hinder snowboarding?
There are four ligaments that hold the ankle together, a large one on the medial side and three on the lateral side. Most sprains are caused by an inversion of the foot when it rolls inward with force.
The lateral ligaments get overstretched or torn. So, the pain is mostly on the lateral side of the ankle. In more serious cases, the pain could extend to the top of the ankle.
Because the ligaments have been overstretched, they become lax and lengthened thereby making the ankle unstable. The muscle spindles (neuroreceptors) are also affected, so there is typically loss of balance and proprioception. As such, snowboarding becomes difficult.
The ache and discomfort could be so unbearable that it might affect other activities. Stretching the foot upwards or downwards far enough may cause a slight shock of pain.
Riding the lifts with your dangling foot attached to the board applies more tensile force to your ligaments and causes them to stretch further. Obviously, you feel the result of that on your ankle. The discomfort is amplified when your board suddenly rotates for any reason.
Healing from a sprained ankle is known to take some time. A mild sprain may heal in 2 weeks, while a more severe one could take months to heal. In fact, one-third of those with a grade 3 sprain are likely to experience some pain for up to a year.
Things you can do to ride with a sprained ankle
To get the best snowboarding experience on a mildly sprained ankle, there should be equal pressure across your foot. To do that, be sure to adjust your ankle straps to fit you comfortably.
However, avoid cranking your straps tightly to the point where it starts crushing your foot. Even if it doesn’t hurt at first, keeping your straps too tight will end up hurting your foot due to hindrance in mobility at the midfoot.
You can prepare your ankle for the lifts by strapping your feet to your board and sitting on a high platform where your feet can dangle. That will give you a simulation of what you’ll experience riding the lifts. Try this for as long as you can, e.g. for the same amount of time you’re be spending on the lift.
Wearing an ankle brace (Amazon) can help keep your ankle stable. This is particularly helpful when you walk up the mountain. The brace gives the support needed for the sprain to heal faster. A tape job on the ankle with an elastic bandage can also do a great job as regards stability and faster healing.
Exercises before and after snowboarding
Routine exercises are also of great importance in sprain rehabilitation. If your ankle isn’t completely healed and strong, it may soon get injured again while snowboarding. You need to be serious with exercises to strengthen your ankle muscles.
You can do a resisted ankle inversion with a theraband while sitting straight with your legs lying in front of you. Theraband resisted ankle eversion, dorsiflexion and plantarflexion are also effective ways to make your muscles and ligaments stronger.
In all these exercises, ensure that you keep your leg straight and maintain the appropriate resistance that delivers the right amount of tensile force to your ankle.
While recovering, you can also try doing Plyometric line jumps to keep your ankle active. Jumping front and back or side-to-side repeatedly over a line are simple exercises you can practice. You can do it with both legs or on just one leg depending on what your ankle can take. You can get creative with the jumps by doing a 180 or 360 degrees jump over the line.
Once you get better, try doing box jumps from varying heights and see how your knee and ankle absorbs the impact. Another simple thing you can do is to stand and balance on the injured ankle. Slightly bend your knee and maintain your balance for 30 seconds five times. It is best you balance on a soft platform like a throw pillow, stack of pillows, or couch cushion.
You should only do exercises according to the grade and stage of recovery of your ankle sprain. If an exercise becomes painful and uncomfortable, you should stop it until it becomes bearable.
A stiff boot can help with a sprained ankle
The boot you use for snowboarding is important when you have an injured ankle. If it’s too soft, then it would lack the right support. And if it’s too stiff and worn tightly, then it might begin to hurt your ankle.
To get the right stiffness, make sure you don’t use anything less than a 7 flex rating boot. Also, you would get more mobility and stability on your ankle by using a stiff boot with traditional lacing. All you have to do is to link it down tightly around your ankle and lace it loose up to.
A stiff boot worn with tight bindings will help although it doesn’t guarantee 100% safety. The stiffest snowboarding boots are not as supportive as hard shell ski boots. An highly regarded example of a good supportive snowboard boot is the timeless Burton Imperial (Evo, Amazon).
While wearing your boot, you should make sure that it is tight enough around your foot. Move your foot around and see that the boot moves along with it. If it doesn’t, then you have to tighten it up.
When to avoid snowboarding with a sprained ankle
You should know when not to snowboard based on the level of your injury. A slight tear in one of your ankle ligaments can cause more complications because the ligaments are now weak. Another hard fall or impact to the ankle could bend it further thereby causing severe tearing or bone chipping.
If there is a tear in two out of the three ligaments, then you can practice RICE to help reduce the pain and speed up the healing. A tear in all three ligaments is more complicated, and surgery may be needed to fix it. Snowboarding in any of these conditions would be a very bad idea.
Apart from ankle sprains, the “Snowboarder’s ankle” is another common injury. It is caused by a fracture of the lateral process of the talus. Due to the nature of the injury, it comes with serious pains in the ankle that makes even walking difficult.
(1) Featured image: “IMG_1026.JPG” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Grayskullduggery
(2) “Best Work Boots for Plantar Fasciitis fo” (CC BY 2.0) by gm.esthermax
(3) “ComfiLife Ankle Brace for Men & Women �” (Public Domain) by shop8447