Common Figure Skating Injuries
The sports medicine team at Capital Orthopaedics has decades of experience in diagnosing and treating winter sports and dance injuries.
Figure skating is one of the most high-impact sports around. While it used to be all about gliding around on the ice with beauty and grace, it’s now far more gymnastic, with increasingly dramatic and complex jumps required for success in competitions.
As a result, the injuries we’re seeing in figure skating are often to do with all those leaps – and tumbles.
We talked to professional figure skater Sofia Martynova about typical injuries, how they can be treated and how she works to build resilience against musculoskeletal problems.
‘Unfortunately, in modern figure skating only jumps are valued, not beautiful skating and other elements. In order to be able to consistently perform triple and quadruple jumps and to win competitions, you need to do hundreds of jump repetitions each day – on and off the ice,’ Sofia explains.
Typically, this sort of repetitive high-impact action can lead to a number of problems in the hips, back, knees, ankles and feet.
Add to that the prevalent issues with eating disorders, as well as the hormones taken to suppress puberty, and it’s no surprise to discover that many figure skaters retire at the age of 17 or 18 due to physical and mental health problems.
Sofia is passionate that the rules in the sport need to change to protect young skaters from this sort of damage. Her exercise regime focuses on yoga to stretch her muscles and help provide mental resilience, as well as strength training and cardiovascular exercise.
Common figure skating injuries
Stress fractures are tiny cracks that form in the bone as a result of repetitive trauma. Hitting a rock-hard surface repeatedly in training is likely to cause stress fractures, typically in the shins, but also in the ankle joints and the bones of the foot.
Treatment: These fractures are usually treated with rest and anti-inflammatories. In some cases, you may have to wear a special boot while your bones heal. Capital Orthopaedics also offers injection therapy to stimulate healing in your bones and other damaged or inflamed tissue around the affected areas.
Figure skating involves explosive movements, particularly making huge demands on the calves to power the skater upwards.
Repetitive actions can lead to micro-tears occurring in any tendons that link muscle to bone – so tendonitis often affects figure skaters in their hamstrings (thigh muscles) and tendons in their feet and ankles.
Treatment: tendonitis can be treated with rest and physiotherapy to help regain strength and flexibility in the muscle. Capital Orthopaedics also offers steroid and other injection therapy to reduce inflammation and improve healing. In serious cases, or if tendonitis leads to a rupture, minimally invasive surgery may be necessary to repair the damage.
Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis)
The tendon that attaches your kneecap (patella) to the muscles on your shin is put under stress every time you jump and land. Figure skaters are particularly at risk of developing this painful condition. Repeated stress on this tendon results in micro-tears and inflammation and can lead to a tendon rupture if left untreated.
Treatment: rest, anti-inflammatories and physiotherapy are generally the most effective treatments. At Capital Orthopaedics, we also offer steroid and other injection therapies to reduce inflammation and improve healing, as well as shockwave therapy. If the tendon is ruptured, you may need keyhole surgery to repair the tendon and any other related damage in the joint.
Achilles tendon injury
The Achilles tendon that connects the calf muscle to your ankle joint is most at risk from damage in figure skaters – from the pain and inflammation of micro-tears (tendonitis) to a complete rupture (Achilles tendon tear).
Sofia developed a cyst on her Achilles tendon due to overuse, which caused three years of pain, and eventually had to be surgically removed.
Treatment: any damage to the Achilles tendon can lead to a complete rupture, so it’s important to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. A torn Achilles tendon requires surgical repair and a long recovery.
Muscle strains of the hip
Figure skating involves a lot of twists and extreme leg movements – and, of course, a lot of falls onto a hard surface in training. The muscles around the hip get stretched and stressed as the skaters hyper-extend and invert their legs. This often leads to strains in the hip joint, where the supportive ligaments and tendons are over-stretched. This leads to pain and weakness and difficulty walking, let alone training.
Treatment: muscle strains are treated with anti-inflammatories and rest, followed by physiotherapy.
Bursitis in the ankle
Your ankle joint is cushioned by three small gel-filled sacs called bursae. These can get damaged and inflamed as a result of repeated impact, a single injury or wearing tight footwear (such as ice skates). This bursitis can lead to pinching in the structures of the ankle (impingement), and pressure on nerves – with symptoms of pain, tenderness and swelling.
Treatment: bursitis often occurs along with tendonitis, so MRI or ultrasound scans are vital for an accurate diagnosis. Treatment involves rest, physiotherapy and adjustment of footwear to prevent friction. Steroid and injection therapy may also be used to reduce inflammation and aid with the healing process.
Lace bite (skate bite)
This inflammation of the tibialis anterior tendon on the front of the ankle is caused, in figure skaters, by the tongue or lace pressing against the tendon. It can become extremely debilitating if not resolved, causing pain and swelling down the front of the shin, sometimes all the way to the toes.
Treatment: this injury is usually easily resolved by altering footwear, rest and anti-inflammatories, followed by physiotherapy to rebuild strength and flexibility. In some cases, steroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation.
This condition affects the ‘growth plate’ area of bone in children and adolescents. As many professional figure skaters start when they are very young, this stress and impact-related condition is fairly common. It occurs as a result of repeated stress on tendons while the bones are still growing – leading to pain and tenderness around the growing areas of the joint. In figure skaters, it most often affects the knees, ankles, feet and hip. The resulting muscle weakness can also affect gait and impact on function in other areas of the body.
Treatment: a careful diagnosis of any joint pain in children and adolescents is key to effective treatment. In many cases, a period of rest and physical therapy with targeted rehabilitation is sufficient for recovery. For more severe, ongoing symptoms, it may be necessary to immobilise the joint while it is healing.
For any winter sports injuries or ankle conditions, contact Simon Moyes and the Capital Orthopaedics team here for an in-depth diagnosis and effective treatment plan to help you recover fast and build resilience against future injuries.