Ankle Sprains and Strains in a Winter Not-So-Wonderland

Brian S. Winters, MD November 9th, 2017

Common Ankle Injuries in Winter Related Sports

Winter sports can be a lot of fun but can also make injury more likely. Ankle sprains and strains are very common injuries, even more so in icy conditions. Winter sports like ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding can cause these injuries. It is important to know the causes and differences between them, as well as ways to prevent them this winter.

What’s the Difference?

Many people confuse ankle sprains and strains, so it is important to know the symptoms of each.

Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments that support the ankle joint are stretched beyond their limits and ultimately tear. There are three grades of ankle sprains: mild, moderate, and severe. Most mild sprains simply require rest and ice for recovery. However, if it becomes difficult to walk on and remains swollen, it is important to see a doctor.

Ankle sprains during winter activities may be caused by:

  • Walking and then falling on an uneven surface

  • Playing sports that require cutting, such as ice hockey or skiing

  • Someone stepping on the foot during activity

After spraining your ankle you may experience swelling, bruising, instability of the ankle, or pain when pressure is applied. Severe sprains might exhibit symptoms similar to a broken ankle such as immediate, throbbing pain, swelling, bruising, deformity and difficulty walking or bearing weight. It is important to seek out a physician right away if this happens.

Ankle strains are injuries sustained to the muscles or tendons. Tendons connect muscles to bones and occur like a sprain. Tendons can either be strained or torn completely, similarly to a sprain. Some typical symptoms are:

  • Muscle spasms

  • Pain

  • Swelling or inflammation

Strained ankle treatment is the same as a sprain. It is advised to rest the ankle, ice it, and elevate it. However, it is important to consult your physician in regards to any ankle injury treatment. Ankle strain recovery time is usually around two to three weeks.

Sports like ice hockey and skiing require cutting motions and can increase the likelihood of sustaining an injury. Even running outside in winter conditions could increase the likelihood of ankle sprains and strains.

Preventing Ankle Sprains and Strains

Sports like ice hockey are known for being dominated by contact. It can be anything from a trip to something more intense like a body check. Changing directions and cutting in the sport can cause any type of ankle injury.

While there are always some risks inherent to any activity, there are also some preventative measures you and a loved one can take to really improve your winter sport experience, such as:

  • Warming up: It is important to warm-up the body, specifically the muscles, before a game. It is important to prepare your body for the physical activity required.

  • Proper equipment: According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons using proper equipment is the only starting point to ensure safety. Increasing safety regulations and equipment are being added to the sports rules.

  • Being healthy: Consuming a balanced diet leads to overall benefits to your health. Being healthy increases the rate your body recovers from injury.

Skiing is another sport where ankle injuries are quite common. It is incredible important to make sure you ski with the proper gear, as this is the best preventative measure. Some important things to consider are:

  • Proper ski bindings: Wearing ski bindings that do not fit correctly can lead to an injury. Have a professional assess what ones are a correct fit for you.

  • Proper fitting boots: Boots connect your feet to the skis, so a proper fit is important.

  • Your actual skis: Smooth and sufficiently waxed skis with sharp edges allow for the most control on the slopes.

If you are concerned or have questions, reach out to one of our physicians. Rothman Orthopaedic Institute is a world recognized center for orthopaedic medicine. Please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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