February 21, 2008 / 6:01 PM / 12 years ago

"Snowboarder's ankle" may be mistaken for sprain

A snow boarder jumps through the air during the FIS slope stile competition in the Macedonian ski resort of Mavrovo, 100 km (62 miles) west from capital Skopje January 26, 2008. Snowboarders run the risk of a relatively rare but sometimes tough-to-diagnose type of ankle fracture, which has become increasingly common as the sport's popularity grows, according to a professional society of orthopedic surgeons. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Snowboarders run the risk of a relatively rare but sometimes tough-to-diagnose type of ankle fracture, which has become increasingly common as the sport’s popularity grows, according to a professional society of orthopedic surgeons.

“Snowboarder’s ankle,” known medically as lateral talus fracture, is a break in the lower ankle bone at the outside of the joint, which usually occurs when the foot is flexed upward and inward. Symptoms include pain and swelling.

Lateral talus fracture can occur when a snowboarder is landing from a jump, especially on an uneven surface, so it’s not an injury seen in first-time snowboarders, Dr. Robert H. Leland of Mapleton Hill Orthopedics in Boulder, Colorado, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, told Reuters Health.

“Part of the problem is that it can be difficult to distinguish whether it’s been a bad sprain and whether it’s been a fracture,” added Leland, a spokesperson for the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society.

An X-ray should be done if a lateral talus fracture is suspected, he said, and the “index of suspicion” for such an injury should be high. Even then, according to Leland, medical professionals who aren’t experienced in diagnosing the injury may miss it, because the break may look smaller on the X-ray than it really is.

Surgical treatment involves realigning the fractured bones and fixing them in place with screws or plates, or both. This results in a better outcome than non-surgical treatment, he added. It may also be necessary to remove any small pieces of bone that remain in the joint.

The injury is best treated by an orthopedic surgeon with experience in lateral talus fracture repair, according to Leland. “It’s not a common fracture, and so as a rule you’d like somebody who has some expertise in treating those.”

To prevent getting the injury in the first place, he advises, snowboarders should make sure their equipment is in good shape and that they’ve received proper training.

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