The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Slap Shot: Protecting Hockey Players’ Feet

Posted by on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

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When you think about hockey players and injuries, you probably think about things like concussions (the Lost Season of Sid the Kid), broken teeth, broken noses. But look at the results of a survey done by the skate protection company Spats:

  • 95% of hockey players have had an injury to their foot from a shot or a slash.
  • 78% of players who reported a foot injury experienced bruising and 15% suffered a fracture.
  • 23% who have had a foot injury have missed one or more weeks due to their injury.

Granted, Spats is trying to build a case for their “skate armor” product, but even if those numbers are half true, it’s still a group of pretty serious percentages. Podiatry Today says that about 27% of all hockey injuries occur in the lower extremities, with foot issues accounting for 11% of all injuries.

Injuries aren’t just a problem for the pros, though–there are thousands and thousands of youth hockey players and adult recreational players who also have to worry about what can happen to them on the ice that might keep them off the ice. Hockey players are susceptible to sprained ankles and fractures like any other athlete, but here are a few injuries that are hockey specific:

Problem: Skate Bite or Lace Bite – No, the skates don’t attack and bite you!! Well, actually they kind of do. Skate bite is the result of a skate tongue that is too stiff and laced too tight. The tongue and laces put pressure on the front of the ankle, leading to painful tendonitis there.

Solution: The immediate treatment for the pain is ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. The real problem is the skate, though. To relieve pressure on the ankle from the stiff skate tongue, players can loosen the laces a little bit, but they must be careful not to loosen them up enough for their foot to move around. They can also put some padding under the skate tongue. Be careful of over-the-counter gel inserts, though–they can freeze. Instead, contact the podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) and talk to them about getting an insert that you can wear under the skate tongue, or a foot sleeve that will help with the problem.

Of course the best solution is prevention. If you or your child plan to get new skates, get them ahead of the season so you have time to wear them and break them in slowly. Serious skate or hockey shops often have a machine that will heat up the padding of the skate, which you can then put on and wear for a few minutes to let it relax into the shape of your foot. And do I even need to tell you that you should make sure your skates, like any pair of shoes, are the right size?

Problem: Frostbite – I know, you’re thinking, “What? Frostbite? It’s cold in the rink but we’re talking ice hotel cold, not frozen tundra cold.” True, but here’s the problem. Hockey players are very active. They sweat. Wet fabric on your skin, combined with cold can actually lead to frostbite even in places where you think you’re protected from the worst of the elements. Equipment, such as poorly fitting, too tight skates, can also contribute to frostbite.

Solution: Wear a layer of moisture wicking clothes to keep your skin dry, especially your feet. Get good socks and bring lots of extras so you can change them at any sign of dampness (but don’t forget to bring them all home and wash them; leave them in your equipment bag and you’ll grow a wealth of fungi). Be on the lookout for (or tell your child to be on the lookout) for feelings of numbness on their toes. If that happens, they should get out of the game and have the trainer check them.

Problem: Fractures, Lacerations – Hockey players may not have some of the jumping and pounding injuries that plague basketball players or track athletes. However, those athletes don’t have worry about a heavy, hard puck coming at their feet at high speed; blows from a stick; blades from another player’s skate. These can all lead to foot disaster.

Solution: These types of contact injuries are all part of the game, and can’t be 100% prevented. The good news is that there are some products now that can be put on skates to provide some extra protection. The above-mentioned Spats got a good review here from Dave Cunning, but a skating or hockey equipment store can point out other options.

If you are feeling pain in your foot, you may have suffered a fracture or sprain without knowing it; because of the stiff, heavy nature of hockey skates, players can often continue to function on a limited level even with an injury. However, the injury still does need to be treated. Contact a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Problem: Skates that don’t fit – This isn’t an actual injury, but poorly-fitting skates are at the root of many hockey injuries. Hockey skate fit is different than regular shoe fit, so you have to be extra careful when choosing your new skates.

Solution: Get a professional in a store dedicated to skates or hockey to help you choose your skates. Unlike regular shoes, hockey skates need to fit pretty snugly; hockey skates can be as much as 1.5 sizes smaller than your regular shoe size. Don’t buy skates that are too big and try to solve the problem with double socks, as that will just lead to blisters. Pure Hockey has a good set of tips for buying the right-sized skates.

Hockey is a great sport and hockey players are some of the nicest athletes you’ll ever meet, but you do need to protect your feet. If you’re a hockey player and you’re having some kind of foot-related issue, The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. 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.