Snowboarder's Ankle: What It Is And Why It's Often Misdiagnosed

Just as the name implies, snowboarder's ankle affects snowboarders more often than the general population. But whether you're hitting the slopes or not, you can still suffer from this condition. Because it doesn't come up as often as some other foot and ankle problems, it sometimes receives a misdiagnosis as a sprained ankle. Here's what it really is.

What Is Snowboarder's Ankle?

Snowboarder's ankle is really a fracture. Specifically, it's a fracture of the lateral talar process, or more simply, a talus fracture. These fractures can occur not just from snowboarding, but from falls, accidents, or even strenuous dancing.

What happens is the talus (lower anklebone) pushes up harshly against the fibula (adjacent calf bone). People with these fractures often leave the doctor with a misdiagnosis of a sprain. That's because the fracture may not always show up on an x-ray.

The Symptoms of Snowboarder's Ankle

Snowboarder's ankle comes with pain, swelling, and difficulty walking. The swelling and pain occurs on the outside of the ankle (this is the reason you might think it's a sprain). One giveaway is that if you move the foot around, you may hear a telltale cracking noise. But since fractures are often subtle, there's no guarantee you'll hear the cracking noise. If it is snowboarder's ankle, it also won't heal quickly like a sprain.

How is Snowboarder's Ankle Diagnosed?

Often, the only way to tell if you have snowboarder's ankle is to wait a few weeks while treating it as a sprain. Once the doctor sees the pain isn't getting any better and there's still no injury to the bone, he or she will likely order a CT scan.

The CT scan can show if there's a fracture or not. Even if your fracture is visible under a normal x-ray, you still may need to take a CT scan to confirm it.

Treatment for Snowboarder's Ankle

There's nothing wrong with waiting since the treatment for a talus fracture starts much the same way as treatment for a sprain. The important thing to remember is that you should never let the pain go on for too long. If your fracture doesn't come up the first time around and treating it as a sprain doesn't help, you definitely need a closer look.

Some people postpone these types of things or wait longer than they should. Don't do that. A talus fracture can turn into further issues such as actual pieces of the bone breaking off. Treatment usually starts with ice therapy followed by immobilization with a cast. In cases that involve loose bone fragments, you may need some surgery to remove them first.

Speak to Your Podiatrist about Snowboarder's Ankle

If you fall or suddenly find yourself with ankle pain, have it looked at immediately. If you've had ankle pain persisting for weeks, you may want to talk to a place like Advanced Foot & Ankle Center of Palatine. If the doctor says you have a sprain, don't be shy about asking about the possibility of it being a fracture. If you're an actual snowboarder, make sure you work on keeping your stance correct and invest in a good ankle brace.