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Foot Pain and Problems from Skiing and Snowboarding

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

When winter hits and the snow starts to pile up, there’s no better place to be than on the side of a mountain, swooshing and carving the soft powder. But hours of exercising in thick, heavy, unmovable ski and snowboard boots can take a toll on your feet and ankles. From the toenails to the achilles tendon, we have a basic guide for understanding your apres-ski aches and pains.

Toe Injuries from Skiing and Snowboarding

Your toes are the furthest away from your heart, and therefore, can be the last areas to receive an influx of warming blood flow. Even in thick socks and boots, the toes can go cold and numb while skiing or snowboarding. Some cold toes are to be expected on the mountain, but when are you in danger of frost bite?

Frostbite from Skiing and Snowboarding

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Although frostbite is more likely to affect exposed skin, covered toes can be affected. The first signs are a cold numb feeling associated with a pale or reddened skin color. This first stage of frostbite is called frostinip, a reversible condition that does not cause permanent damage. The key is to pay attention to cold toes that become uncomfortable. A trip into the lodge for a rewarming session is a good idea, since continued exposure to cold leads to true frostbite which does leave permanent damage. With frostbite, the skin begins to freeze. Small ice crystals actually form within the skin damaging the cells, nerves and tiny vessels. On the skin surface you will see red, white or blue color changes. Numbness transitions to severe burning pain with attempts at rewarming the affected toes. Severe frostbite will can damage the entire thickness of the skin or even the tissues below. The toes can blacken and turn hard as the skin dies.

Ingrown Toenails from Skiing and Snowboarding

Aside from the cold, the toes move a great deal in a a ski boot and even more in a snowboarder’s boor. The toes, especially the great toe has to move up and down with each turn. If it rubs or presses against the side of a stiff boot you can wind up with anything from a bruised nail fold to an ingrown toenail with an exposed wound where the nail has dug the skin open. Acute treatment with warm water soaks and application of antibiotic ointment works well to relieve pain and keep the are clean. If left untreated, the problem could persist and become infected. At that point antibiotics or possibly even a procedure to remove the side of the nail may be needed.

Arch Pain from Skiing and Snowboarding

Achy arches are common, especially if you’re new to the sport, or haven’t been on skis in a while. The tight boot may hold your feet and ankles in place but the muscles are flexing as you turn and stabilize. Snowboarding especially works out the foot muscles! Transitioning from toe edge to heel edge and back requires a lot of pointing and flexing of the toes. This action happens because of the intrinsic foot muscles which are small muscles located entirely within the foot. They are frequently underused with typical daily activity. In contrast, the large, powerhouse muscles that do most of the work when you walk and run have muscle bellies in the leg and tendons that run to the feet. These larger muscles will curl the toes (think, picking up a towel from the floor with your toes) while the smaller intrinsic muscles pull the toes straight down, the movement you do when you go onto the toe edge. All of these movements in a restrictive boot can cause foot ache and arch pain. Custom orthotics can relieve mid-foot and plantar foot aches and pains. A common myth is that orthotics weaken your feet. The truth is, orthotics don’t do any work for you. In fact, people who need an orthotic will exercise more with good biomechanics. Orthotics provide mechanical advantage by correcting foot posture so that the muscles and tendons work efficiently. A gait analysis is a good way to your biomechanics foot posture. The right insole can keep you moving!

Achilles Tendinitis from Skiing and Snowboarding

Pain at the back of the heel with swelling and even mild redness are signs of achilles tendinitis. This problem tends to occur when the calves are tight and/or when the ski boots don’t fit properly. A quick fix for an acute attack of achilles tendinitis is to wear a high heeled shoe and avoid going barefoot for a few days. Lifting the heel places slack (relieves tension) on the Achilles tendon and allows the inflamed area to calm down. Of course, ibuprofen and ice will relieve inflammation and pain. Treatment for a prolonged achilles tendinitis involves calf stretching, rolling, and proper shoes/boots.

Shin Splints from Skiing and Snowboarding

Shin splints cause pain on the front lower leg, where the bone meets the soft tissue. It’s actually an inflammation of the interface between muscle and bone. When this occurs after a day on the slopes, a poorly fitting boot is usually to blame. Rest is usually required to relieve the ache but ibuprofen and ice can make you feel better fast.

At Ace Feet, we help treat a wide range of foot problems, including issues resulting from skiing and snowboarding. If you have any questions or concerns about any of these issues, or if you would like to book and appointment, you can contact Dr. Thompson here.

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