Some of you may already know how big I am on treating skater feet!!! Why? If you are a skater and spend a large percentage of your time in your stiff boots, there is a high probability that your intrinsic foot musculature has become weak. The amount of skaters I have seen with "flat arches" is very high compared to the general population. There is an increased risk of injury to the tendons on the inside of the ankle, increased risk of achilles tendinopathy due to changing the alignment of the heel upon landing, and increased risk knee/hip injuries as well. The feet are the skater's first contact they make with the ice and, from all of my observations, they seem to be one of the weaker structures in the typical "skater body."
Anatomy and Mechanics
Foot intrinsics are the little muscles inside the feet that hold up the arch (seen below.)
What I have seen in a large percentage of "skater feet" is this...
The bone in the middle of the foot tends to fall towards the ground and they will get a callus or bump along the arch indicating that bone (the navicular) has dropped and rotated pressing into the boot often causing blisters in addition to altering the mechanics. Now, many people say, "ya I have flat feet...that's why I have orthotics!" Great! That can help, but if the initial issue is "lazy feet" that are weak and atrophied by the stiff boots doing all the work for them, then adding an orthosis to place your arch in the correct position will even further progress the laziness of those muscles.
Most of the evidence I have reviewed focuses on the hips and glutes with improving landing mechanics. This may be true for most, but when I test muscle strength of these groups, they have typically been pretty strong. The primary deficit I note is ankle weakness and poor intrinsic foot muscular activation. Now, many people have studied the knee diving inwards on landing as this positioning is known to be associated with ACL tears. I did a large literature review and found that hamstrings and ankle dorsiflexion range of motion (the ankle ability to move into a flexed position) both play a larger role than glutes for the knee positioning. Interestingly, skaters tend to be ok in the ankle mobility region, but are definitely weak in the hamstrings and ankle stabilizers. Midfoot pronation will result in out-toeing of the foot and the knee to dive inwards upon initiation of landing force. So if we are deciding to look towards the hips resulting in the knee collapsing inwards or the feet, I may pick the weak feet to address first.
Jump Air Positioning
When you jump, the optimal air position is to obtain a tight of a column to improve the rotational speed and reduce drag to increase rotational speed. The legs are fully stretched and extended down towards the ice. At the end of the rotation phase while transitioning into the landing phase, the foot points downwards towards the ice in order to prepare to land.
The more regions of the body utilized in absorbing force, the more the body is sharing the load thus reducing the overall force of landing. Think of linking a bunch of springs together and pulling on them vs just pulling on one spring. It will take much less force to pull on the chain of springs vs only the one. If the foot is pointed prior to landing, you will be able to increase the time going from initial contact to the point at which all force is absorbed. If you are familiar with physics, increasing the time over the amount of distance, you get reduced force! Sounds good to me!
If the arch is weak and the foot/ankle does not participate in absorbing force, there will be increased load placed into the joints above the ankle i.e. the knee, hip, and low back. Force placed on the inside of the arch could translates into the inside of the knee causing this alignment issue...looks painful right? This is why addressing the foot could reduce the incidence of pain on the inside of the knee, patellofemoral pain syndrome, lateral hip pain, achilles and other foot tendon issues.
So ultimately, while in an air position, it could be beneficial point your toes and extend your legs when in in order to improve overall air position and also so the lower extremity is prepped for maximal shock absorption. Skating boots tend to give skaters a false senes of stability. They're tied up tightly and then we forget there have feet in there! I haven't even mentioned the cold rink causing numb feet in addition to all this. Another concern with decreased ankle stability is increased incidence of ankle sprains while outside of their boots. If you are healthy it is always good to look up some ankle stabilization or contact Freestyle Physical Therapy, your medical practitioner, or a PT in your area to add in some preventative exercises.
These are some of my favorite ways to address these deficiencies per youtube.
Short foot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9OsUCzXqZg
Arch strength with resistance band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwDLeqH3O9Q
Ankle stability, single leg stance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SF7AYh2_Yw (Be careful - stand near a stable surface for support before progressing balance challenges) - maintain that "short foot" position while performing balance for optimal outcomes
Please feel free to contact me or leave comments below to discuss!
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