April 2006

Mr. Edge is a qualified skate technician with years and years of experience. He can answer your questions on boots, blades and foot problems related to your equipment. Questions will be answered in SKATING magazine and later posted on the web site.

An article appeared in The Wall Street Journal a couple months ago placing blame on boot manufacturers and the skating industry for injuries skaters often encounter. For anyone who's been around this sport for as long as I have, the article seemed very one sided.

I'd like to from my viewpoint shed a little, or maybe even a very big, bright light on just why there are various injuries these days. Keep in mind that most injuries don't just appear overnight. They take time to develop before rearing their ugly heads.

Let's start by going back 35 years or so and take a look at how boots were made, the amount of support in them, what skaters were doing in the way of jumps, etc.

1. Most boots were made with two-piece construction, came up higher around the ankle and lower calf and were made of real honest-to-goodness leather.
2. There were few rinks around then, fewer figure skaters, and available ice time was tough to come by.
3. Skaters were barely doing doubles and patch (if anyone remembers) accounted for, I believe (correct me if I'm wrong), 30 percent of your total score.
4. Off-ice training wasn't around, so skaters had to rely on their own ankle strength to be able to land jumps.

Question: With little, if any, off-ice training, how were skaters able to build up all that strength in their legs and ankles?

Pay close attention, as I attempt to explain what leads to injuries skaters in our sport most often encounter.

When doing patch (figures), a skater was forced to control his or her upper body, legs and ankles in order to properly perform well. Oftentimes used skates (those that by today's standards would be considered broken down and useless) were used. If the boots were too stiff, a skater would not be able to bend enough in the skates to be able to control his or her figures. Along with the bending motion came movement. This movement is what toned up all the muscles in the body.

Many skaters back then had large calf muscles because of this exercise (constant bending motion). It is this type of exercise that allowed skaters to bend freely in their boots, thus building up great natural ankle support. Skaters did not need to rely on a stiff boot for support. They were able to skate comfortably in what they had.

As the sport progressed, skaters were required to learn more difficult jumps and were able to acquire more ice time for practice. Parents and coaches started to express their concern that the skating boots weren't supportive enough and that they needed to be replaced far too often. In answer to this, boot manufacturers started beefing up their boots, aka adding more support. As the years went on, this cycle was repeated time and time again, with no one realizing the long-term effects it would have on skaters. Of course, it wasn't expected that kids would be required to do far more in a much shorter period of time.

So, here we are today with boots that for the most part are far too supportive. Why? First off, it was expected that boots should be made to last much longer and that it was OK to buy boots large enough for kids to grow into. Secondly, it was thought that a more supportive boot was required for the higher levels of skating.

Well, folks, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at it this way – if you have your entire arm and hand in a cast for several months and then take away the cast, do you think you could throw a baseball with the same speed as you could before the cast? Do you think you could pick up a pen and write as neatly as before, or type as easily and fast on your computer? The answer is NO. You need to build up your strength again.

So it goes with the ankle joint, which, by the way, is what absorbs all the shock when landing jumps. If you immobilize the ankle and foot (by means of being in too supportive a boot), other parts of the body have to take over and help absorb the shock: knees, hips and lower back. Does this sound familiar to anyone who is having pain in these areas?

Why do boots break down too quickly? To answer this, we must first realize that there are far too many inexperienced people working in pro shops who think they know something about fitting boots. Also, keep in mind that there is no school or facility for training skate technicians. It's “learn as you go,” and hopefully some will.

Most importantly, however, is that there is no one particular brand of boot that will fit every foot. A boot doesn't have to be too long on someone for it to break down prematurely. The length could be just fine, but most importantly, it is the fit in the heel and ankle area that makes the difference between feeling really good or having an ongoing breaking-in problem, not to mention the ankle soreness or any other problem that arises.

Now that the skater has been skating in too stiff a boot for so many years, he or she has developed heel spurs, ankle calcifications, tendonitis, etc. Let's not forget to mention the knee, hip and lower back pain. So, what's a skater to do now?

How about a softer boot? Not quite. After having been in too stiff a boot for so long, a skater usually feels insecure because he or she lacks the natural ankle strength and support that should have naturally developed from constantly flexing the ankle.

So, now what? How about buying a better-fitting boot with less support? So what if a skater breaks it down in six or seven months. Isn't it better that he or she skates comfortably and avoids all the pain and suffering?

Let me share with you some costs on just how inexpensive it is to purchase two pairs of boots per year as opposed to all the doctors and physical therapy bills that pile up so quickly.

Let's first set some guidelines so as not to make it seem as if this applies to all skaters at all levels. There is a certain amount of time and level of skating at which these problems start and quickly escalate. Size and weight of the skater is rarely an issue.

1. Number of hours per week skating: Eight or more
2. Level of skating: Preliminary and up
3. Incorrect sizing of boot in length: Half-size or more
4. Incorrect sizing of boot in width: One width or more
The average cost of an intermediate pair of freestyle skates will vary depending on the make and model of the boot and blade. The price difference between kids and adults is anywhere from $40-$100 (Custom boot prices will add more to the average cost.).

Boots ($350.00) + Blades ($195.00) + Sales Tax @ 7% ($37.80) + Mounting Fee ($45.00) = Total ($622.80)

The average cost of a hi-test pair of freestyle skates again will vary depending on the make and model of the boot and blade. This time I'm going to use adult pricing and include an average custom boot price.

Boots ($620.00) + Blades ($450.00) + Sales Tax @ 7 ($74.90) + Mounting Fee ($45.00) = Total ($1,189.90)

Now let's take a look at the medical costs involved with a minor injury.

Initial family doctor visit ($75.00) + Referral to a foot specialist ($150.00) + X-rays if needed ($125.00) + X-ray reading ($50.00) + Lost contract ice time x two weeks ($160.00) + Physical therapy if needed ($450.00) + Pain and frustration to injured skater (Priceless) = Total ($1,010.00)

The costs above do not take into consideration the following:

1. Time off from work
2. Gas to and from doctor offices
3. Babysitters for siblings
4. Coaches fees

The cost of an injury to the knees, hips or back is much higher than that above, especially when considering the MRI and other costly radiological exams.

Maybe it's time we realize the following in order to skate comfortably and pain-free throughout our skating careers:

1. Find someone who has experience fitting different brands of boots
2. Expect to purchase a pair of new boots about every seven to nine months
3. Always buy the proper size and boot model for your skating level

You can rest assured that all the boot manufacturers make a quality product and that someone will have just the right boot for your feet and skating level. However, finding someone to figure that out could be like finding a needle in a haystack.

The last question is, what can we do to help those who are currently suffering from knee, hip and lower back pain, and maybe even some tendonitis around the ankle area?

1. Stop skating, or limit your skating until you've completely recovered. This may take a year or longer.
2. Retire from competitive skating
3. Start looking into a much softer boot or maybe the hinged boot from Jackson. This boot will allow you to bend much easier and with almost no pain at all. Of course, this will depend on just how severe your injury is.

I hope I've shed some light on explaining how this entire mess started in the first place. Hope you all have a great skate this month. 'Till next time...

Mr. Edge and all related elements are property of Arena Sports & Consulting Services, Inc. ©2016. Send your questions to Mr. Edge via mail (Ask Mr. Edge, SKATING magazine, 20 First Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80906); FAX (719) 635-9548 or e-mail them online.

The opinions of Mr. Edge are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Figure Skating or SKATING magazine. Remember, if you have problems with your feet, check with a doctor – the problem may very well be with your boot, but it could be more serious. Check with your local pro shop for more information about boots and blades.