Figure skating is a highly technical sport that requires both prowess in aerobic fitness and precision of balance. This combination of technical challenges creates a beautiful sport filled with both delicate movements and displays of power. Like all athletes, figure skaters are prone to sport-related injuries. Many figure skaters begin their career on the ice as early as 5 years of age. Starting training this early can lead to an increase in injuries in participants as they continue to grow and develop, particularly if they are not using proper form or if they do not allow prior injuries to heal completely. Some injury patterns are more common than others. This post is intended to point out some common injuries, and also provide some information as to how figure skaters can try to prevent injuries.
A study looking at figure skating participants in male and female singles, pairs, and dance was conducted in 2003 assessing some of the most common injuries that were significant enough to impede training. Among all groups they found some common injury patterns. Pair skaters were more likely than any other competitive group to have injuries, followed by singles. Pair skaters were noted to have most of the head and laceration injuries of all groups as well. The injuries evaluated in the study occurred during practice when new skills were being added or refined, not during competitions. The three most commonly injured sites included the ankle, the knee, and the low back. Low back pain is speculated to be secondary to sacral dysfunction due to the repetitive changes in force vectors that skaters endure while landing rotational jumps, and the downward force of impact during landing. Many skaters with low back pain were also found to have “hyperlordosis,” which is an over exaggeration of the extension curve in the low spine.
In order to perform at the highest level and to avoid injuries, figure skaters must train not only on the ice but also off the ice to build endurance and strength. Recent recommendations look at strength training to improve posture as well as symmetry in lower extremity strength to minimize imbalance that can create chronic use injuries in skaters. Some target muscles that seem to improve trunk stability and posture include transverse abdominus, multifidis, and gluteus muscles. Improving the strength in these trunk and postural muscles can help counteract rotational and compact forces that skaters experience during training to prevent injury. Improving core strength likely helps counteract some of the anatomical changes many skaters have experienced in their spines such as the increase in extension in the low back. There is also evidence that working on balance activities off the ice can improve the ability of muscles to be recruited appropriately during balance activities, which can decrease strain on the knee and ankle when they are on the ice.
Figure skaters, like all athletes, can be at risk for sport related injury. Understanding some common injury patterns can help trainers and skaters improve training programs to reduce the risk of injury. One major method identified has been to strengthen other complimentary muscle groups to help prevent injuries. Focusing on strength training these other muscle areas can improve an athlete’s form and prevent chronic overuse injuries or compensation injuries. Fewer injuries incurred during practice can lead to an overall more satisfying experience for the athlete and allow them to perform the sport they love longer and with less pain.
Fortin & Roberts. 2003. Competitive figure skating injuries. Pain Physician 6:313-318
Mohney, Miller & Hanson. 2017. Strengthening the figure skater: considerations for injury prevention and performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal 39;58-65
Image credit: https://www.thoroldskatingclub.com/
By Sierra Cobb and Alee Vladyka