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An Article from Skate Magazine

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Maybe it isn't all in your head. There just might be a physical reason why those inside edges are so painful! Dr. Allen Selner, Chairman of the USAC/RS Sports Medicine Department and noted podiatrist/sports medicine specialist, joined forces with Mike and Darcy Fleming, former amateur champions who are currently teaching and operating Skateland in Northridge, California. Together they've made a study of the unique problems of figure skaters, and prepared this report of what they've learned so far…

With the popularity of competitive roller skating and the tremendous interest in sports medicine, we began to take a critical look at the physical problems of amateur roller skaters.

Two and a half years ago, while watching a local southern California television talk show, we happened to see a segment about lower leg problems in children. Dr. Allen Selner was the guest, and he spent a great deal of time discussing many of the foot and knee problems that seem to be prevalent among our figure skaters. What really caught our attention was the discussion involving "knock knees" and knee pain. Dr. Selner seemed to have many ideas and solutions that we had never even considered, so we immediately had one of our more experienced skaters call Dr. Selner for a consultation appointment. That single appointment generated such tremendous interest in both Dr. Selner and ourselves that we met soon afterward to discuss the range of problems that could be corrected through basic podiatry and bio-mechanical techniques.

Since that time we have exchanged enormous amounts of information about our respective occupations and have been able to come up with answers for some of the problems that have been plaguing skaters for years.

We discovered that it is not enough to adjust trucks, move boot placement on the plates, or suggest stiff boots for skater who have problems - though these methods can be part of the answer. We found that individual variations in body structure play a key role in the evaluation and correction of many skaters' problems.

For example, a large percentage of figure skaters have difficulty executing inner forward and inner back edges for an extended length of time. What generally occurs is a distortion of the body position due to excessive strain on the inside of the knee and ankle. To compensate for this stress, the skater usually lifts the free hip excessively, which than forces the upper body outside of the circle on any inner edge. Because of this poor body position, many other errors are likely to occur while executing turns and take offs. Upon observing this situation, a teacher generally turns to the standard remedies (moving the plate, arch supports, tightly laced stiff boots, etc.). Because the problems are actually more complex, these standard remedies often have limited success.

A classic example of this is the flat footed figure skater. (The photo above shows flat feet with Pronation.)

With a flat-footed skater, several things come into play. While executing an inside edge the foot begins to flatten and roll in. This is called pronation. The knee then follows and "caves in" additionally. This series of problems leads to excessive knee and ankle strain. A skater trying to put continual pressure on the inside edges will have extreme difficulty, as the foot is in an already over-extended position. Skaters trying to do figures with (flat and or pronating arches) have difficulty executing accurate take offs, poor edge quality during turns, subcurving, poor changes of edge, and numerous other errors. In extreme cases (especially if the skater has poor momentum), the skater may actually fall off the edge and be unable to complete the figure. Many teachers than ask their skater to increase the speed of the figure, hoping that centrifugal force will hold the skater upright. However the skater inevitably slows down and encounters numerous difficulties.

These problems are all the direct result of the poor knee and foot positioning. Therefore the solution lies in aligning the foot, which secondarily aligns the knee and leg. This is accomplished most accurately with an orthotic device. An orthotic device used for skating is analagous to using glasses to correct poor vision. A person with poor eyesight acquires a custom made set of refracted lenses to obtain 20/20 vision. A person with poor foot and leg position can acquire a custom made set of orthotics to align his legs in a "20/20" like position. With an accurately constructed pair of orthotics, stability is increased, and most abnormal motion is reduced.

Coaches should be aware that these problems can occur in any age skater. The degree of the problem may vary with the age of the skater, but the skater cannot "grow out" of the problem. The problem is structure and alignment and it can be corrected.

If you feel that some of your difficulties in figure skating can be traced to one of these symptoms, you should think about having an examination by a sports medicine podiatrist. To find one, call the Podiatry (or D.P.M.) Society in your area. Ask them to recommend one of their members who specialize in sports medicine. You may find that even this specialist doesn't know a great deal about the unique physiological demands of roller skating so be cautious about any recommendations made, and encourage your podiatrist to contact Dr. Allen Selner with any questions or problems. (Dr. Selner, as Chairman of the Sports Medicine Department, can be reached through the USAC/RS National Office.) Your visit with a sports medicine podiatrist may result in an orthotic device for you to wear inside your skates, causing a big improvement in your ability to control your foot and leg position during figure skating.

These custom made orthotic devices should not, however, be regarded as a panacea for all the ills that befall the figure skater. They aid the skaters who have physical problems by improving their body mechanics, thus allowing them to compete on an even level with skaters who have naturally good body structure. Becoming a champion still requires hard work and tremendous dedication!

-- Skate Magazine 1981

A note about Harlick and Co.

For over 30 years Harlick and Co. has recognized the need for corrective devices in skating to neutralize body position in skaters with our Inside Wedge Corrections and with our Orthotics.

Check our special options price lists for corrective devices provided by Harlick and Co.