At some point or another, while wakeboarding, you may have experienced some ankle pain. It may have been while riding, after a landing, or something you have noticed later after you took your set. You may have noticed swelling, tenderness, or an inability to bear weight on your foot. While riding, the ankle undergoes multiple forces that shear the bones and lead to inflammation. Bindings that don’t fit correctly, hard landings, or major crashes can cause the ankle to become injured.
Because the ankle attaches the lower leg to the foot, there is a complex network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones involved.
image: medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com, http://home.comcast.net/~wnor/lljoints.htm
Typically, if your bindings don’t fit correctly, a pinching sensation will be felt in the front of the ankle. Because the binding is too tight around the metatarsals and forefoot, all the motion from leaning to stay on edge or landing must come from the joint between the talus and the tibia, instead of being able to translate through the foot . This “pinching” sensation is the bones putting pressure on the tendons and ligaments that cross the joint. Repetitive pinching can lead to inflammation and longer-lasting pain. Also, the lack of motion translated through the foot leads to a heavier heel stike on landings, cause heel pain after multiple tricks.
Landing hard, like into the flats or casing the wake, can lead to ankle injury. The force from the board hitting the water is dispersed through the joint , leading to pain that can manifest in a variety of areas. The pain will most likely be felt in the weakest part of the ankle, which for most is the lateral, or outside, part. Because the ligaments in this area are the smallest, it is the most frequently sprained area of the foot. Making sure landings are absorbed with the knees, or are positioned correctly over the second wake will help prevent these injuries. If the injury has already occurred, proper treatment to resolve the injury is important so the ankle joint remains strong and doesn’t develop stress patterns and ongoing pain.
The ankle is affected during many of the infamous wakeboard crashes. The worst seems to be the “foot came halfway out of the binding” crash. During this maneuver, the front of the ankle becomes stretched and the backside compresses. This overstretches the ligaments and muscles of the anterior ankle and pinches the calcaneous, of heel bone, into the talus and achilles tendon. This stretch and compression can lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain. Other crashes can cause the ankle to bend laterally depending on how you fall. This can lead to the more normal presentation of ankle sprain. Sometimes, however, the pain from crashes can be felt up the shin due to the design of bindings. It is important to treat the entire lower leg, below the knee, when the ankle is involved to ensure no causative factors are missed.
So what to do?
1. Make sure your bindings fit properly. Get advice from a representative or an employee of a local boardshop to make sure your bindings are the correct size and shape for your foot and your riding style.
2. Strengthen the ankles. Simple calf raises, toe and heel walks, and ankle ABC’s can do wonders to strengthen and prevent injury.
3. Treat injuries as soon as they happen. Remember RICE. Rest comes first. Don’t ride on a hurt ankle if you don’t have to. You will lead to further damage and possible stress fractures. Ice should be your best friend. 10-15 minutes 2 times per day will help calm inflammation and swelling, as well as numb your pain. Compression and Elevation will also help to reduce swelling.