By Rose Brandle
How skiing impacts on the foot
In the cold, muscles take longer to warm up and so you may be more prone to injury when practising winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. Your feet and ankles are particularly important in skiing, as they act as shock absorbers and brakes, as well as helping you to steer and accelerate when whizzing down the slopes, and so must be as protected as possible. Any pre-existing conditions or injuries can not only compromise your performance, but also leave you open to further damage to the
area. However, these risks can be minimised with the right equipment and training.
Potential problems and when to seek the help of a podiatrist
Blistering and bruising
These are the most common problems faced by skiers, and can be mainly avoided with quality equipment and good fitting, but cannot be avoided altogether. Not everyone’s feet are the same and knobbly protuberances in the foot and ankle will be prone to bruising and friction, which lead to blisters. The ankle bone, toes, top of the foot and front of the shin are easily rubbed by even the best-fitting ski boot, and any moisture held against the foot will cause friction and quickly lead to blisters.
While these sound like very minor problems, bumps and blisters can keep you off the slopes while they heal and eat into your precious holiday time. Do not pop a small blister, but if it breaks on its own, apply an antiseptic and cover with a sterile bandage. If you know you are prone to blistering in a particular area, some skiers advise applying a dab of Vaseline to the area in question before starting to ski as a preventative measure. Invest in some good plasters and blister cream before you go.
Ski boots and the physical exertion of winter sports can exacerbate any pre-existing foot problems, such as bunions, and bony prominences on the inside or outside of the foot are prone to rubbing and blistering if your boot is not well-fitted.
Other conditions, such as diabetes or Raynauds Syndrome, which both affect circulation and are made worse by cold and tight-fitting footwear, have to be carefully monitored when skiing. The best advice is to consult your podiatrist before you hit the slopes. Chilblains are itchy blisters that can pop up in cold conditions, usually on the toes but also on fingers and even on the face. Again, keeping the areas warm and dry is the best way to prevent them.
Ski boots are the most important piece of equipment for skiing, and ill-fitting boots can lead to a host of problems. Ski boots should be a snug fit - if they are too loose, the foot and ankle can slide around inside the boot and the pressure exerted by the constant forward motion and lateral movement of skiing could lead to sprains, strains and fractures. Too tight, and the boot will rub and blister the foot.
The boots must be rigid enough to keep your feet and ankles firmly in place, especially the heel, but should allow your ankle to flex. The toe box should be snug but not too tight. You can test the fit by leaning back: your toes should just skim the front of the boot. To check the general fit, kick your heel and then your toe against the ground while wearing your boot. If your foot slides backwards and forwards, the boot is probably too loose.
Remember that you will be wearing your boots for around seven hours a day while skiing, so they must be comfortable. Choose boots carefully, trying on a number of models and wearing them around the shop before you make your choice.
Socks are part of your insulation from the cold and are crucial in winter sports such as skiing. Good socks will not only help keep your feet dry by ‘wicking’ away moisture from the feet but will also keep them warm and comfortable within your boots. It is essential to take your socks along when having your boots fitted: thin socks are recommended by podiatrists and ski specialists alike.
Five top tips when skiing
- Choose the right boots - this is essential, so don’t rush it!
- Wear one pair of thin socks designed for skiing - don’t layer, and don’t wear cotton socks.
- Take a first aid kit with you that contains plenty of plaster and blister cream.
- Don’t tuck your trousers into your boot.
- Look for ski clothes made of materials that transport perspiration away from the skin, and waterproof outers to keep you dry.