Beginning skaters often experience pains in the lower leg and foot muscles. Typically, these are due to the causes below.
- Burning calves and feet are very common at first because lower leg and foot muscles need to get accustomed to the new activity. This can also occur if you haven't skated for a few months.
- Straight knees and bending forward. This common beginner’s divergence from the Ready Position puts extra stress on the shins and toes because those muscles must compensate for the unbalanced posture. Leaning forward eventaully causes back pain for the same reason.
- Tingling or cramping in the arches are common the first few times because the toes and feet are often tensed up inside the boot. This goes away as confidence builds. If not, this could be the result of…
- Too-tight skates. It takes a few tries to figure out how snugly to lace and buckle a new pair of skates. While a snug fit ensurse better performance, pain and bruising mean skates are fastened too tightly. It may take a week or two of not skating to heal such a bruise.
The short-term fix for all of the above problems is to sit down and undo all the buckles and laces to regain full circulation in your feet. After a moment or two, pull and straighten out the tongue and then re-lace and buckle up. Time and more skating experience are the long-term fixes.
In general, skating with a ramrod straight or swayback will cause pain sooner than a spine retaining more of its natural curves. Assuming the absence of a bad disc or other chronic problems, back pain can plague both beginning and advanced skaters in these two circumstances:
- Newer skaters who have not yet learned a properly aligned Ready Position. (Click the link to see your fix.)
- Experienced skaters working on a more aerodynamic stance. (Continue reading.)
The ability to skate in an aerodynamic tuck is not something a person can develop overnight. It takes months of skating for longer and longer periods to build the required muscular tolerance. Here are ways to alleviate or reduce back pain during the conditioning period:
- Do a forceful exhale with mouth open, like a loud Haaaa! This Pilates-based action compresses the abdominal muscles and at the same time releases the tight opposing muscles in back on either side of the spine. Keep the abs pressed against the spine for several strokes and repeat as necessary.
- Realign your torso. If your shoulders are ahead of your knees, either unfold a bit by raising the shoulders, and/or tuck your pelvis forward to realign the hips under your mass. After adjusting your upper body, make sure your knees remain well bent.
- Do a quick on-the-roll stretch. Grip the backs of both knees with both hands and pull your shoulder toward your knees while arching your spine upwards like a frightened cat.
- Reassess your technique: "How can I make my legs do more of this work? How can I keep my heels heavy for more of the stroke duration? How can I use gravity and body weight to increase my pushing power?" This can help correct the spinal burden when your shoulders begin inching forward.
Off-skates activities to reduce back pain
- Core strength exercises to strengthen the torso.
- Standing Yoga poses or reclining lower back stretches for self-realignment.
- Self massage by lying down on a pair of tennis balls or 2-lb hand weights covered by a thin blanket or Yoga mat. Or... try my own invention made of recycled wheels!
Boot Fit Pain
Regardless of your skill level, the more your skates hurt your feet, the less progress you can make toward becoming an advanced skater. Assuming you have done your best in selecting the right skates and proper fit, here are the most common problems and what to do about them:
- Ankle bruising. In the order listed, try: loosening the buckle or laces around your ankles, replacing insoles with custom orthotics to correct pronation or supination, shorter skating sessions until your ankle strength has a chance to build up.
- Blisters. In the order listed, try: prevention by putting Gel Pads, Mole Skin or athletic tape over the area before you go for a skate, wearing softer socks, wearing thicker socks. Find more information about preventing and caring for blisters on Kathy Fry’s Foot Blisters page.
- Sole feels too hard.In your local drug store’s foot care section, find thin cushions (“odor eaters” work great) to insert under the manufacturer’s insole. For improved foot support, consider replacing the insole with your own custom orthotics.
- Road vibrations cause fatigue. Skate on smoother surfaces like concrete. Adding a thin cushion under your insole as described above helps. You can also buy softer wheels (76A or 78A instead of 80A or higher) to lessen the vibrations.
- Chronically tipped skate(s). When not tired, you should be able to stand or coast in the ready position with both skates' wheels upright and perpendicular to the pavement (tipping is a sign of tired ankles). If not, and you aren't ready to buy new skates with better support, try ...
- Professional boot fitters. Take your skates to a ski boot retailer and ask for their resident boot fitter. These professionals can evaluate both your stance and your boot fit. They have a variety of solutions on hand to improve skate fit as well as to maximize your performance in the boot.
- Heat molding. Some people (mostly speed skaters) customize their skate fit by molding them to fit thier feet. This is not possible on all skate models. For instructions, see heat molding at Kathy Fry’s Skatelog.com.