Beautiful on the Ice, Brutal on the Body: Avoiding Figure Skating Foot and Ankle Injuries
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Ice skating is such an incongruous thing. Human bodies, usually stuck plodding along on land, slide and twirl, twist and spin with total grace and beauty. At least, that’s how it looks when the pros do it. For the rest of us, ice skating is a perilous sport rife with blisters, bruising, ankle sprains, chronic ankle instability, bunions, blisters, stress fractures, tendonitis, and nerve damage. I took ice skating lessons when I was young, intent on becoming the next Kristi Yamaguchi, and was shocked to discover just how difficult it is to control tiny metal rails on a rock hard, slippery surface. Who knew? As your legs splay every which direction and you struggle to perform a simple figure eight, all of the muscles in your ankles and feet are struggling too. The normal walking or running motions (straight ahead, one foot after the other) do not prepare you for the lateral strain, twisting, and hard impacts of life on the ice. Here are some important tips for protecting your body from your sport.
It turns out ice skates are not your foot’s best friend. Like pointe shoes in ballet, most figure skates aren’t designed with foot health in mind. Instead, they’re designed to look sleek, extending the lines of the foot. They’re also extremely heavy. Most figure skating coaches recommend a ratio of skate weight to body weight of no more than five percent and yet, most skaters (especially the kids) are wearing much heavier skates. You can figure out your ratio by weighing both skates, dividing your skate weight by your body weight, and dividing by 100 (remember that five percent is .05).
Shock absorption is next to zero in those skates. Skates keep the foot and ankle stiff and don’t typically have any internal padding. So your ankle joint can’t bend and flex to absorb the impact when you land (this isn’t good news for your knees, hips, or back either). The trick here is to find skates that allow for some bendability, even when they’re laced up tight (these do exist, but they may be a bit more expensive and take some wearing in). First, check your own bendability by standing barefoot and bending your knees as far forward as you can without lifting your heels off the floor. Measure the angle of your shinbone and ankle. Now try doing it with your skates on. You should be able to bend just as well in your skates after a month or two of wear. If you can’t, get new skates.
Check your alignment! If your skating blades are warped, off centered, or otherwise irregular, you may be in for some injuries. Carefully inspect your blades before you buy a new pair of skates, and inspect them regularly as you practice. Impact is hard on those blades just like it’s hard on your joints. Over time, most skates show real wear and tear. Replace yours well before their damage damages you.
If you’ve got a skating foot or ankle injury, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.