Snowboarders Fly High and Land Hard: Ankle Injury on the Slopes

Snowboarding entered the winter sports scene in the 1970s. Since then, it has become increasingly popular. More and more people are taking up snowboarding, and their ankles may pay the price.

Fractures of the anklebone are common among snowboarders and can lead to serious problems if left untreated. Too often, the injury is overlooked as a simple ankle sprain. The fracture involves a small bump on the outside edge of the main anklebone, the talus. The talus connects with the end of the large lower leg bone, the tibia. What landing position can cause the anklebone to break?

These authors took ten cadaver ankles and placed them in positions that were thought to cause ankle fractures. First, to mimic the snowboarder’s foot position when landing from a high jump, the authors flexed the foot in an upward direction and rolled the heel slightly inward while applying heavy downward pressure. Even in these older ankles (ages 60 to 92), no injuries resulted from this combination of movement and pressure.

The authors then recreated the same landing position, but this time, they pointed the foot out at the same time. This position resulted in injury in six of the eight ankles tested.

These results suggest that landing with the foot lined up or slightly turned in at the ankle probably doesn’t lead to an ankle fracture. It’s landing with the foot pointed out that is mainly responsible for fractures of the talus bone. More research could lead to the development of boots and bindings that keep ankles safer on the slopes.