Common Foot Injuries Among Skaters

Properly fit boots are key to prevention

X-Ray for foot pain
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All of the skating sports and many other sports activities can be greatly affected by the condition of the 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 you can treat foot pain with rest and self-care, but if symptoms persist after a few days, see your primary-care physician or sports medicine specialist. Bring your skates so the physician can see if poorly fitted boots contributed to your problem.

Boot-Related Foot Injuries

Properly fitted skating boots can help you remain injury-free and skate strong during recreational, fitness, training, competitive, or performance activities. All inline and roller skating disciplines require quick turns and stops that are executed using your feet and ankles. Many activities with stunts, spins, or jumps put additional stress on your feet.

In roller sports, your skating boots are your support system, and a proper fit helps prevent injuries and improves performance. 

Boot-related problems include:

  • Boots that are too small. Young skaters who have experienced a growth spurt may end up in tight boots that put pressure on various parts of the foot, affecting concentration and performance, but tight boots cause foot pain at any age. 
  • Boots that are too large. 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 keep weight too far forward over the skates during advanced maneuvers.
  • Small boots that are laced 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, which is so common among inline, ice, and roller skaters that it is sometimes called "skate bite." Lace bite can result from lacing properly sized skate boots too tightly and irritating the soft tissue on the tops of the feet. Change lacing patterns, add lace hooks, or pad the top of the foot inside the boot to relieve or spread the pressure evenly over the top of the foot. Add padding to the tongue using spongy rubber or soft lamb's wool.

Blisters may form when boots don't fit properly, and pressure against the boot results in calluses and hammertoes. 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. 

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 insoles or boot liners separately as well as in the skates 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

The fit of your skates isn't the only cause of foot pain and injury. Bumps, small cysts, and irritations on your feet can be very painful when pressing against the skate. Other foot injuries that affect skating and are common among skaters include:

  • Malleolar bursitis, in which the bone that protrudes from the middle of the ankle swells and causes pain. It is the most common foot protrusion, and a simple remedy is to put a doughnut 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.
  • Excessive tightness or tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. Wall pushups and lunge stretches can help this condition.
  • Plantar fasciitis, 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 feet.
  • Metatarsal stress fractures, which can cause pain on the top of your foot. These fractures are a collection of small cracks in the bone and are a common chronic injury in figure and stunt skating. They are often caused by the force of takeoffs and landings from jumping. 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 gets worse if it is not treated properly. Jumping also causes navicular stress fractures.

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, avoid overtraining.

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 pre-existing 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 pre-existing circulatory problems, such as Raynaud's disease or diabetes.

Seek medical attention for severe pain or pain lasting longer than a few days. 

This document has been medically reviewed for accuracy.