Figure skating has become an increasingly popular sport. With this increase has come an increase in the injury rate. This is due, not only to a larger number of skaters, but to the larger number of skaters performing difficult maneuvers, such as triple and quadruple jumps.
The type of medical problems figure skaters experience depends on many factors: performance level, type of maneuver being learned or performed, number of repetitions, and environment.
Top-level figure skaters may spend four to six hours per day on the ice — not to mention additional time practicing dance and choreography, or lifting weights. With the repetition required to perfect a jump, spin or lift, overuse injuries are very common.
The most common injuries include tendonitis of the leg (primarily around the ankle and foot) and muscle strains of the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf and hip. When these injuries occur, they are usually treated with relative rest, ice applied to the injured area and an exercise program to include range of motion, stretching, strengthening and, in the case of lower extremity injuries, balance training.
Many overuse injuries can be prevented. Maintaining adequate strength and flexibility is important. New programs and workouts should be introduced gradually, so the body can get used to the new tasks it is asked to perform. An adequate warm-up and cool-down is also very important. This could include 10 minutes on an exercise bike before and after skating, as well as a general stretching program. Though less common, overuse injuries to the back, such as spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis (inflammation to one or more vertebrae) can also occur. Other bony problems, such as sesamoiditis (inflammation to the kneecap) and stress fractures of the feet, are also encountered.
Continually purchasing new skates for a growing child can be very expensive, but properly fitting skates can decrease the risk of overuse injuries. A loosely fitted skate allows significant foot and ankle motion, causing muscles and tendons to work harder, and can lead to injury. Poorly fitted skates can also contribute to blisters, nail disorders and other soft-tissue problems.
Figure skaters commonly suffer from a variety of other medical problems.
Exercise-induced asthma is common in the general population, but more common in cold weather athletes. General symptoms may include a cough, wheeze and shortness of breath or fatigue after skating. This condition can be made worse by skating in enclosed rinks, due to carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide created by ice-cleaning machines.
However, winter colds are not more common in figure skaters than in the general population.
Health Tips for Figure Skaters
Maintain good overall health (strength, flexibility, nutrition, sleep)
Take the time to warm-up and cool-down
Gradually introduce new programs and maneuvers
Report injuries to your coach, parent or trainer