Chesapeake Physical and Aquatic Therapy
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Figure Skating Injuries and Physical Therapy

Figure skating is a very demanding sport that combines agility, strength, and endurance to challenge athletes and push the limits of the physical demand on their bodies. Figure skating is constantly changing and requiring more of the elite athletes. A triple axel used to be considered the most challenging jump, but now the bar has been raised and the skaters are performing quadruple rotation jumps. These increasing physical demands can cause a higher risk of injury for the skaters.
There are numerous injuries that can result from skating, and one of the most common is hypermobility of the spine or even stress fractures. Skaters are very young, often where their bodies are not even fully developed. Female skaters are typically at their prime in their mid-teen years. Skaters in their mid 20's are even considered "getting old" for the sport. Landing 50-60 jumps a day on a single blade puts a lot of stress on the spines of these young skaters, which could cause stress fractures. They are also expected to have such incredible flexibility, such as bending back to perform a beautiful layback spin. Although this is a beautiful element, the skater must have extreme flexibility of the spine, which can cause too much movement between the vertebrae without enough stability thus causing pain. These physical demands can cause even more injuries when skaters begin having a growth spurt around age 13-14 when they are training at levels higher than their bodies can handle Physical therapy can help provide the balance between strength and flexibility to prevent injury for these young skaters.

Skaters can obviously also have injuries through the hip, knee, and ankle from the demands of their jumps. A skater will always land their jumps on one leg, which causes a tremendous amount of impact on that side. This shock travels from the ankle, to the knee, hip, and even up to the back. If a skater has boots that do not fit properly this can lead to bunions, heel spurs, or many other injuries.

Olympic champion Tara Lipinski is a prime example of a female skater placing high demands on her body at a very young age. She won the Olympics at age 15, and is the youngest skater ever to have won an Olympic gold in figure skating. She will always remain the youngest, as the United States Figure Skating Association passed a rule after she won the gold medal that that skaters must meet a minimum age requirement to participate in Worlds and the Olympics. This rule was likely influenced by Tara's hip surgery that she was required to have at such a young age. She had hip pain leading up to the Olympics, but she ignored it, as most elite athletes would. Finally at the age of 18, after 4-5 years of misdiagnosis, the doctors realized that she had a torn labrum in her hip and needed surgery. She also was at a very high risk for a DVT (deep vein thrombosis). If this blood clot becomes dislodged, it can lead to a pulmonary embolism that is a serious condition that can even cause death. This injury required her to retire from the sport at age 18.

Skaters will benefit from receiving physical therapy to initially provide them with the knowledge of the risks of the sport and learn to understand what they can do to prevent these risks. Young skaters will often not consider the importance of off-ice training, thinking they are doing fine if they can land their triple jumps on the ice. Skaters need to become aware of the high risk of injury associated with the sport and what they can do to prevent this from happening to them. Tara has started a campaign to educate skaters about her condition to hopefully prevent it from happening to more skaters. Physical therapists can work with these skaters to be sure they are achieving a good balance of flexibility, strength, and stability to allow them to perform at elite levels without causing as much strain on their bodies.

I figure skate and therefore have increased insight into dealing with injuries involving figure skaters. I also did a clinical rotation in Canada with the international training center and have worked with numerous national, world, and Olympic level skaters. I have worked as a physical therapist at three different National skating competitions. This background allows me to work with figure skaters more effectively and efficiently, as I personally understand the demands that skating places on their bodies.

By Jared Goldstein

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