As more individuals are becoming involved in the four disciplines of the sport of figure skating, singles, pairs, synchronized skating, and ice dance, there has been increased media exposure and popularity in the entire sport. Throughout the United States, there have been better training techniques to create stronger athletes in order to improve the ranking of the U.S. athletes compared to other nations that have dominated the sport. By becoming more of a presence on the world stage, U.S. Figure Skating has attracted a wider following of the sport as well as more people interested in taking on figure skating (Niinimaa, 1982).
Figure skating incorporates strength, artistry, and endurance, in a unique balance for each discipline, which creates distinct challenges for injury prevention and for training. Since the sport is judged based on the technical elements and the components of the program, the different requirements for each of the disciplines become more apparent. Strength is needed to perform jumps, spins, and other technical elements. Artistry is needed to determine the program components based on the quality of skating and the overall program quality. Endurance is essential to be able to complete the entire short and long programs without tiring and fatiguing towards the end of the programs.
Muscular strength is essential for athletes in order to complete the various elements within a program. Specifically, jump takeoffs require leg, ankle, and knee strength to achieve maximum height in the air, and arm strength is needed to be able to vault the skater into the air. There was a study done to assess the relationship of strength/joint speed and the height a skater was able to achieve during his or her jumps. Eighteen skaters had the heights of their single and double axels measured, as well as the strength in their knees, shoulders, and hips measured. The overall result showed a positive correlation between the height of the axels and the athlete’s strength. In order to normalize the study across all the athletes based on height and weight, the height of the jumps was converted into jump potential (potential energy). Knee strength at 240 deg/sec, shoulder strength at 300 deg/sec, and hip extension at 240 deg/sec showed the highest relationship among the two categories. Knee strength is important to the take-off of jumps, because with the most powerful extension, the highest jump can be achieved. In terms of the single and double axel differences, the highest degree per second value was correlated with the double axels and the lesser value was correlated with the single axels, because less power and strength is needed to complete a successful single axel when compared to a double axel. By increasing joint strength in the body, height of jumps increased. By association, the chance of injuries would be decreased, because the joints will be strong enough to withstand the forces exerted on them and it will be easier to land jumps (Podolsky et al, 1990).
Endurance and aerobic ability of athletes is an element that is required to complete an effective and efficient program. Training is vital in order to improve on skaters’ endurance and to train athletes to be less fatigued following their routines. It has been shown that after completing endurance training programs, skaters are less fatigues throughout the duration of their programs, and in turn have less errors during their skates (McMaster et al, 1979). Skaters possess about 50-60% more cardiovascular power than inactive individuals. However, skaters do not have as much power as endurance athletes, which can be accredited to the fact that skaters need to complete a program that is at most around five minutes, whereas endurance athletes need to complete hours of output (Niinimaa, 1982)..
Artistry and flexibility are other necessities to the sport of figure skating. These two aspects go hand in hand as flexibility is needed to improve upon the artistry of the program through elements, such as spirals, spread eagles, layback spins, and lift positions. Flexibility is also important in decreasing the prevalence of injuries in the athletes. Increased injury was seen in those who possessed less flexibility than others (Smith et al, 1991). Flexibility inhibits injuries, because more flexible athletes possess a higher range of motion. This higher range of motion allows for more falls and errors to occur without damaging joints and muscles.
The four different disciplines require a diverse combination of strength, artistry, and endurance based on the expectations and elements in each discipline. Pairs skaters require the most strength of all the disciplines in order to complete lifts and throw jumps. This strength is required for both the female and the male skater. The male must throw and lift the female, and the female must have enough strength to be able to maintain a locked position in the air and to push off into the air. Ice dancers require the most artistry of the disciplines, as well as strength in order to complete lifts while mimicking the dances and patterns similar to those of ballroom dance. Singles skaters, especially those in the men’s division, require the most endurance, because the programs are the longest for these athletes and the most difficult jumps are performed within the singles discipline. Synchronized skaters incorporate a balance of the three requirements, since elements of all the disciplines are incorporating in synchronized skating. Because of these differences among the disciplines of skating, there are specific injuries that are the most common within each discipline.
In figure skating, the prevalence of overuse injuries is very high, especially among singles skaters. Overuse injuries are injuries to the body, such as to the muscles and joints, that are due to repetitive actions and/or damage on a certain area. This high prevalence of overuse injuries is the result of the increased difficulty of elements as skating has progressed. Skaters must attempt and complete the harder jumps with more rotations, which require more practice, thus, leading to possible overuse injuries. In pair skating, ice dancing, and synchronized skating, acute injuries to the upper body are more common resulting from the various lifts and throw jumps in the disciplines. To reduce the risk of injuries throughout all disciplines, certain measures may be taken, such as proper footwear, strength training, and flexibility training (Niinimaa, 1982). With the different demands of each of the disciplines, some injuries become more commonplace in one discipline over another.
In singles skating, there are more overuse injuries and injuries of the lower extremities due to the jumps and technical elements performed. In one study performed on men and ladies figure skaters, data from 236 female and 233 male skaters was taken during four consecutive World Figure Skating Championships, as well as one international competition by having the skaters fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire sampled data on how common certain injuries are within singles skating. 25% of the females and 27.9% of the males experienced acute injuries, which sprained ankles being the most common injuries between athletes of both sexes. This injury is prominent due to the fact that jumps require a lot of force for both take-off and landing, and an injury to the ankles, especially, can occur if one aspect of the jump is even slightly off . Overuse symptoms were much more frequent than acute injuries with 42.8% of females and 45.5% of males reporting them (Dubravcic-Simunjak et al, 2003). Of these overuse injuries, the most common for females were stress fractures and the most common for males was jumper’s knee, which was the second most common injury in females (Han et al, 2018). The constant pressure of landing multirotational jumps can be very debilitating to the knees and the repeated forces of jumps may even be strong enough to fracture some bones within the leg and foot.
Since pairs skating and ice dance both incorporate a male and a female skating simultaneously performing lifts and patterns, many of the injuries of the two disciplines overlap. To find out more on the injuries of pairs skating/ice dancing, a questionnaire was given to 14 pairs, seven males and seven females, about the occurrence and severity of upper extremity injuries in their lives. The questionnaire was tailored towards the demands of pair skating in order to specifically observe injuries related to pairs skating. On average, the females in the study were three years younger than the males. Males tended to experience more upper extremity pain than the female skaters with 66% of males experiencing mild to severe wrist pain while training and 50% of them experiencing mild to severe shoulder pain while training. Although pain in the hands and elbows did occur in some skaters, shoulder and wrist pain was seen more often. This phenomenon is probably due to the nature of the lifts. Many lifts involve over the head presses from the male, which places a lot of tension on the shoulders and wrists of both skaters in order to fully execute the required elements. Also, death spirals, an element in which the male skater pivots an almost horizontal female skater, only connected by one point- a hand- places a lot of strain on the shoulders and wrists of the skaters. In regards to the lower body, the most pain was seen in the groin and knees than other parts of the lower body. Over 50% of the slaters said that they had knee pain during on-ice training and 64% said they had knee pain in between their other workouts. Females tended to have more pain in their hips and feet than males, who rarely exhibited any pain in those locations. This discrepancy of pain between the sexes is due to the fact that the females skaters require more flexibility at the hip joints, which can lead to overuse injuries in these areas. On average, there was a little over 10 consecutive days of training missed due to injury if it needed rest. From the questionnaire, the male skaters stated that they got more injured from singles skating rather than pairs skating, while the females reported the opposite (Brown and McKeag, 1987). This discrepancy arises because the males participated in singles skating longer before switching to pairs skating, and the difference in number of injuries of females versus males is because of the different element requirements of the male and female pairs skaters. The females must perform riskier elements than males, which may elevate the prevalence of injuries in female pair skaters rather than male pair skaters.
Synchronized skating the newest discipline of figure skating that consists of teams comprised of 8-20 skaters. Typically, at the junior and senior levels, there are 16 skaters on the ice together preforming programs that are about 4 minutes in length, which include pairs elements, ice dance patters, as well as some jumps and spins from singles skating. The International Skating Union Medical Congress completed a study by sending out questionnaires to the athletes competing at the 2004 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. Since this is a female dominated discipline of figure skating, most of the skaters who filled out the questionnaire were female (514 female to 14 male). The median age of the females who filled out the survey was around 19 years old and the median age for the males was around 22 years old. Around 42% of both the females and the males experienced some types of acute injuries, with a median of three to five injuries per skater in their entire synchronized skating career. However, around 57% of both the females and males in synchronized skating states that they have not had any injuries yet due to synchronized skating. This lack of injury is probably because of the fact that many of these skaters began this discipline later on in their skating careers, which would lower the incidence of injury due to synchronized skating. Many skaters start out as singles skaters and then branch out into other disciplines, because singles skating is the most popular of the disciplines. As synchronized skating gained popularity, skaters switched disciplines into synchronized skating. A little less than 15% of the males and females in synchronized skating experienced lower back injuries. Over 20% of females experienced overuse injuries, whereas only around 15% of males experienced overuse injuries. Lower extremity injuries had the highest occurrence across both sexes at 57.1% of males and 39.9% of females, and upper extremity injuries had the second highest occurrence across both of the sexes at 28.6% of males and 33.2% of females. These two injuries are the most prevalent because of the repetition and demand of the legs during all of the main synchronized skating elements, and lifts are to blame for the upper body injuries. Most of the injuries occurred during on-ice training at 82%, which is likely because the entire elements, such as blocks, wheels, and intersections, cannot be performed or tested off the ice. So, when they are attempted on the ice, there may be errors and collisions with other skaters, resulting in injury. The majority of the injuries occur during the intersection, which is an element in which the skaters have to intersect one another in various configurations. As a result of the intersecting action, it is easy to collide with one another. The second most common element in which injuries occur is lifts, in which one to three skaters lift another skater. Injury may occur both to the lifted skater and to those lifting if it is executed improperly (Dubravcic-Simunjak et all, 2006).
With injuries being common among all four disciplines of figure skating, it is necessary to avoid them in order to be able to continue training and improving on skills to remain competitive on the world stage. Training programs can be implemented to avoid injuries and to build up strength to prevent injuries from occurring. A conditioning program was set into place in one experiment in order to observe how a conditioning training program can be implemented to stop injuries while completing a routine. Frequently, skaters become tired towards the end of a program, which is when most falls and errors occur. Through this conditioning program, skaters trained an additional 30 minutes on the ice three times per week for three months in addition to their normal practice schedule. There was on-ice interval training as well as off ice training for 30 min every other day with stretching daily. After the three months were up, the VO2max increased by 9% due to the training program. The skaters’ programs seemed to be faster and more consistent towards the end and the skaters’ claimed feeling less tired when completing their programs (McMaster et al, 1979). Interval training seems to be a positive way to decrease the prevalence of injury by training the body to become more prepared for increased activity. Fatigue causes the skater to become more careless in his or her execution, so avoiding fatigue will avoid the errors that go along with it.
Training off the ice can also be a positive addition to a practice regimen for figure skaters (Mannix et al, 1996). Using testimonials from champion athletes from various disciplines, many substantiated the necessity of off-ice training in warm up and in strength training. Many of the new and emerging elements in figure skating require much ankle power and strength. However, skaters are not building up muscle in their lower leg and feet but are instead relying on stiffer and stronger boots to compensate for the lack of strength. This boot stiffness results in some injuries; they have led to an increase in tendinitis, and 80% of foot injuries in skaters are caused by new stiff boots. Additionally, younger skaters tend to acquire more injuries than older skaters, because their bodies are not developed enough for the forces and strain of the difficult elements they are required to do. Tears in the hamstring are common, because their muscle strength has surpassed the strength of their bones. Also, younger skaters tend to have an increased likelihood of developing inflammation of the joints and ligaments in their legs (Ferstle, 1979). It is clear to see that an improvement in the strength of skaters will not only allow for progress of skating elements, but also will result in a decreased chance of injuries because the body will be able to better withstand the rigors of the sport.
Ultimately, pairs skaters and ice dancers share some of the same injuries as synchronized skaters due to the similar nature of the required elements, such as lifts and death spirals. Yet, pairs skaters and ice dancers do not show as many knee injuries as synchronized skaters. This difference is partly due to the fact that with synchronized skating, a skater may not know when a fall is coming resulting from a trip or collision with another skater. So, skaters may not be able to brace for a fall, and thus hitting their knees with greater force. Singles skaters show a higher amount of ankle injuries than other disciplines, and not as many upper extremity injuries. Ankle sprains are the most common, because of the many multirotational jumps needed. The landings put a lot of force on the ankles, so if one is slightly off then an ankle injury may happen. With upper extremity injuries, they are more common in other disciplines because of the lifts and over-the-head presses required in pairs skating, synchronized skating, and ice dancing, but not in singles skating. Also, overuse injuries are more common in singles skating, compared to the acute injuries common in the other disciplines. Pairs skaters and singles skaters shared more lower back problems than synchronized skaters and ice dancers. Singles skaters have to perform spins and elements that incorporate back flexibility and overuse, and the lifts in pairs skating can cause back injuries if performed incorrectly. Although some of the disciplines share some of the same kinds of injuries, many are unique to one discipline.
Training can be used to try to lower the rate of injury by strengthening the body to prepare for the demands of the sport. Conditioning and on-ice interval training can be incorporated to lower the fatigue during routines, which leads to less errors at the end of the routine. Off-ice training is also important in order to warm up the body prior to exercise, which allows the body to be better equipped for the on-ice training to come. Strength training off the ice results in training the body to tolerate higher forces, which not only prevents injuries, but also permits more difficult elements to be performed. Often times, injuries are lumped together just in terms of figure skating as a whole, but it is important to see which are derived from each discipline to be able to better tailor injury prevention and training to the skaters.