All of the skating sports and many other sports activities can be greatly affected by the condition of each athlete's two most important assets - the feet. Any sport can become difficult or even impossible without proper foot care. And any type of big or small foot injury could have serious repercussions for inline and roller sports participants.
The act of skating itself may result in a variety of injures to the foot causing many levels of discomfort. Pain on the bottom, top or sides of the foot is a common complaint among inline, roller and ice skaters. It is important to find the source of the pain, regardless of whether you are a recreational skater or serious competitor committed to many days of practice each week. Sometimes a skater can treat foot pain with rest and self-care, but if symptoms persist after a few days, it is important to see your principal care physician or sports medicine specialist. Many skaters bring their skates along to appointments, so the physician can see if poorly fitted boots is part of the foot problem.
Boot Related Foot Injuries
The most important item that can help a skater remain injury-free and skate strong during recreational, fitness, training, competitive or performance activities is properly fitted skating boots. All inline and roller skating disciplines requires quick turns and stops to be executed by using the feet and ankles. Many activities with stunts, spins or jumps put additional stress on the feet. Roller sports skaters depend on one equipment category to support everything. Your skating boots are your support system, and a proper fit will help prevent injuries and will improve performance, too.
- One of the most common foot problems seen among young skaters is pain from boots they have outgrown. When skating boots are too small, it causes foot pain at any age. But youth who have been properly fitted, and experience a growth spurt may end up in tight boots that put pressure on various parts of the foot, creating and hurting concentration and performance.
- Boots that are too large cause problems, too. Skaters try to compensate for the extra room by lacing boots too tightly (cutting circulation), clenching their toes (causing foot cramps) and even using space fillers that keeps weight too far forward over skates during advanced maneuvers.
Blisters may form when boots don't fit properly.
- Pressure against the boot results in calluses and hammertoes.
- Jumping causes navicular stress fractures.
- One common cause of foot pain for skaters is small boots that are laced up too tightly over the instep. The lacing should be snug but not so tight as to cut off circulation or pinch the foot. If your boots feel too tight around the ball of the foot, the boots may be just a little too small for you even when the lacing is loosened. Have the fit checked at a competent skate shop.
Lace bite is so common among inline, ice and roller skaters from many disciplines that it is sometimes called "skate bite." Lace bite can result from lacing properly-sized skate boots too tight and irritating the soft tissue on the tops of the feet. Athletes with lace bite should re-evaluate skate lacing patterns so that pressure is spread evenly over the top of the foot. Sometimes it is necessary to change lacing patterns, add lace hooks or pad the top of the foot inside the boot to relieve or spread the pressure. The tongue of the skate can also get additional padding using spongy rubber or soft lamb's wool. These tongue padding items are available at many skate pro shops or from many skating boot manufacturers.
- Pressure on the top of your foot from skates that are too tight can contribute to an entrapment neuropathy, usually called a pinched nerve. Entrapment neuropathy symptoms include pain on the top of your foot, accompanied by numbness and tingling in the first and second toe. This is similar to a lace bite injury, because pressure must be relieved at the front of the ankle. Most pinched nerves can be treated with rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications. Your sports medicine specialist or physician may also suggest steroid injections.
Fabric liners and insoles fit inside most skating boot styles to provide a comfortable bed to support the foot and ankle. Fit and size may vary by manufacturer, so try on the insole or boot liner separately as well as in the skate to make sure they are the right size and provide comfort. Using the best skating boots available for your activity and customizing the fit or lining system as needed for foot variations like flat feet or high arches is very important for active skaters.
Other Foot Injuries
Bumps, small cysts and irritations on our feet can be very painful when pressing against the skate.
- The most common foot protrusion is malleolar bursitis in which the bone that protrudes from the middle of the ankle swells and causes pain. A simple remedy is to put a donut pad on it, providing padding all around the bump but not directly on it. Protective padding can be added to the skate lining, or a leather skate boot can be bumped out. Gel sleeves can also provide extra cushioning.
- Another cause of foot pain is excessive tightness or tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. Wall push-ups and lunge stretches can help this condition.
- A common foot problem among skaters is called plantar fasciitis. This is a form of tendinitis that affects the bottoms of the feet. Treatment for plantar fasciitis includes resting the feet, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, and properly fitted custom orthotics to provide additional support for the foot.
- Metatarsal stress fractures can cause pain on the top of your foot. These fractures are a collection of small cracks in the bone. These are a common chronic injury in figure and stunt skaters, and they are often caused by the force of take-offs and landings from constant jumping activities. Symptoms include a gradually worsening pain on the top of the foot, accompanied by swelling and bruising. Symptoms may improve while wearing skates that often support the foot like a cast, but this condition will get worse if it is not treated properly.
Prevention and Self-treatment
The good news is that most roller sports foot injuries are preventable and proper foot health can enhance performance in the long run. You can help to prevent lace bite, nerve problems, many pressure related injuries and some stress fractures by ensuring that your skates fit correctly and are properly padded.
Proper stretching and warmups before skating are essential. Stretch the foot and calf muscles prior to skating. Your coach or instructor may also evaluate your technique, and recommend strengthening and stretching exercises to correct any imbalances in muscle strength and flexibility. Use appropriate technique and limit inline or other skating activities to prevent tiring the feet and ankles. As with any repetitive stress injury, over-training must be avoided.
Many skaters who have foot, ankle or knee problems wear custom shoe inserts or orthotics, which help align their skates properly. Gel inserts or heel supports may relieve pain during inline skating. Try to limit skating to smooth surfaces which produce less vibration. Strong ankle support and a firm ankle retention may secure the foot, and reduce foot strain and mid-foot pressure during skating.
When foot pain occurs, reduce or stop skating until the pain is gone. If you have any swelling or discomfort following an activity, elevate and apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, but only if you have no conditions that restrict their use.
Get Medical Attention
Visit a podiatric physician for evaluation, if you have any preexisting foot conditions like corns, calluses, bunions or hammertoes before buckling up or lacing into skates. A medical examination is also required for any potential skaters who have preexisting circulatory problems, such as Raynaud's disease or diabetes.
Seek medical attention for severe pain or pain lasting longer than a few days. When you have new foot problems, your physician will ask questions about the pain and your level of skating activities. The painful area will be carefully examined for variations in foot shape, stance and movement as possible causes of pain. Sometimes specially made inserts are prescribed to correct and prevent foot problems.
X-rays and other tests may be done to determine if there are any bone fractures. Pain and swelling can also result from stress fractures. Treatment will depend on the location of the stress fracture. Your doctor may recommend a non-weight bearing cast for three to six weeks until the injury has healed, and advise ice and anti-inflammatory medications. Most stress fractures will heal completely with rest.Other Sports Injuries
Skating injuries are always lurking on the horizon. Some may be overuse injuries and others may be acute or traumatic. Learn about the things you can do to prevent, identify or get professional treatment for some common inline skating injuries:
- Injury Prevention 101
- Manage Shin Splints
- Head Injuries
- Shoulder Injuries
- Mouth Injuries
- Lace Bite
- Wrist Injuries
- Foot and Ankle Pain
- Ankle Injuries
- Bumps On Feet
- Foot Injuries
- Back Pain and Injuries
- Knee Injuries
- Hip Injuries
- Road Rash and Abrasions
- Floor Burns
This document has been medically reviewed, and the information is medically accurate.