With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics well under way, millions of people are yet again drawn to the visual spectacle that is figuring skating. Figure skaters mesmerize us with their effortless elegance and artistic precision as they glide across the ice. Conveying the perfect balance of artistic expression and dynamic aerial maneuvers, figure skating encompasses a skill set that is unlike any other sport. With most figure skaters reaching their peak between the ages of 16 and 20, mastering the art of figure skating requires an unprecedented determination and discipline at a very young age, as well as a large financial and physical support team. In an article by Huffington Post, Scott Hamilton, former US Olympic Gold medalist, says training to be an Olympic figure skater can cost as much as $25,000-$80,000 when you add up choreographers, costumes, ice time, trainers, and coaches. US Olympic skaters such as Gracie Gold and Jason Brown have most likely had skates on from the second they can stand, and spend an average of 5-7 hours devoted to on and off-ice training. With 15+ years of intense training, figure skaters are no stranger to injury, and have their share of “sports-specific problems”. A recent article in Current Sports Medicine Reports, discusses the most common injuries behind these artistic athletes.
As you would imagine, with all of that time in ice skates, the feet and ankles are prime targets for injuries in skaters. The stiff leather boots and rigid blades, can cause conditions such as “Lace Bite”, which is irritation of the muscle tendons that cross the ankle joint underneath the laces, and “Pump Bump”, where the outside of the heel grows outward, caused by repeated friction from an improperly sized skate. Stress fractures of the foot bones are also extremely common, because of the excessive force and constant pounding from jumping and landing. Some skaters actually limit their number of jumps, to minimize this type of injury. However, ankle sprains are without a doubt the most common injury. But, rarely are ankles rolled when inside the skate. Advancements in ankle support have provided skaters with the support they need for larger aerial tricks, but have caused figure skaters to develop weak muscles on the outside of the ankle (Peroneus muscles), and many figure skaters roll their ankle when performing off-ice training.
The knee joint also takes quite a pounding from the constant jumping and impact of landing on the hard ice. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome and Patellar Tendinitis (AKA “Jumper’s knee”) are common condition seen in many athletes who jump repeatedly, such as basketball players. The explosive contractions and consistent pounding can cause irritation of the kneecap and Quadriceps tendon. Unlike other sports, acute injuries such as ACL and Meniscus injuries are actually rather uncommon in figure skating.
With so much of a skater’s technique and skill rooted in practice and routine, the excessive repetition of the same motions during take off, landing, and spin direction, apply an unbalanced set of forces on the body, creating skeletal and muscular imbalances. Often times this asymmetry manifests itself with pain in the hips and pelvis, due to differences in flexibility and strength in the lower extremities. Figure skaters often experience pain in the SI Joint, where the Sacrum connects with the ileum of the pelvis. It is also common for young figure skaters to experience inflammation of the abdominal muscles where they attached to the hip bones. This condition is called iliac crest apophysitis. It is caused when young skaters, who still have open growth plates at the hips, over exert their oblique muscles, trying to produce more torque to complete more rotations during a jump.
Back injury is also extremely common amongst figure skaters. Their excessive mobility and frequent hyperextension can predispose them to conditions such as Spondylolisthesis or Spondylolysis, where the lumbar vertebrae move forward on top of each other, even causing fracture in some cases. Furthermore, muscle strains, spasms, and injury to the facet joints between each vertebrae are also very common. A skater’s style, nutritional status and muscle tone can potentially contribute to a predisposition for back injury.
I think if you were to ask an Olympic skater to count the number of times they have crashed landed on the ice, they wouldn’t be able to count them on one hand. But they might be able to count it on one wrist. Falling on an outstretch hand is the primary cause of injuries to the upper extremity in figure skaters. Although injuries to the hips, knees and ankles are much more common, every skater has most likely had atleast one wrist injury. Wrist sprains or fractures of the Radius and Scaphoid bones are common with impact in such position, and are much more common in unexpected falls.
With such a rigorous training schedule and high degree of risk, figure skaters are prone to many “sports specific injuries”, and require a multitude of treatments to stay on the ice. Copious amounts of rehabilitation and medical therapy are required to properly treat a skater’s ailments. With advancements in Orthobiologic therapy and approval by the World Anti Doping Agency, figure skaters have turned to Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) to help speed up recovery time from injury. Canadian Figure Skating star Kaetlyn Osmond was hampered with many chronic injuries, including a chronic hamstring tear, prior to the Olympics. After undergoing a PRP injection to the hamstring, Kaetlyn was able to return to jumping and managed to gain momentum just in time for the Sochi games.
Orthobiologic treatments such as PRP are gaining much exposure for their use in professional athletes, such as Olympic figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond, and have exhibited regenerative potential and tissue healing properties in extensive clinical trials. Pioneers such as the Orthohealing Center are constantly working to progress the field of Orthobiologics. Check out the Orthohealing website for more information about Platelet Rich Plasma and Orthobiologic treatment.