Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inline Skating (rollerblading) Foot Pain and Suggestions

I promise, this is the last post tonight from my 1990 web page archives. I wrote this one back when inline skating was new and popular in Minnesota. It was about managing foot pain ...

Inline Skating (rollerblading) Foot Pain and Suggestions

In trying to help a colleague who experiences mid-foot pain while skating, I posted a newsgroup query to I received many helpful suggestions. They are listed here for others who may be looking for ideas. Thank you to all who have passed on their experience.

Skating associated foot pain has many causes. A podiatrist would likely have a comprehensive list. Much pain is related to strain and vibration along the ligaments (plantar fascia) that maintain the arch of the human foot, and to unaccustomed workload on some of the small muscles of the foot. Compression of the mid-foot is a significant issue for many other skaters. General solutions include: better fitting skates, decrease vibration, better support, warm-up, and less mid-foot compression (substitute ankle compresson for mid-foot compression).

Some pain decreases with skating, other types may increase. A common pattern is pain after 3-4 minutes that may decrease after 30-40 minutes. The pain can be quite severe. There is a market niche here for a skate manufacturer!...
  • High performance skates, with carbon/glass frames and aluminum frame clips and light boots transmit a lot more road vibration. I tried some K2 Escapes for a while, and while I loved the speed and agility the transmitted road vibration was much worse than with my boat anchor Rollerblade Fusions.
  • On the other hand, the standard K2 skates, with their partially nylon fabric uppers, have helped some people. The Flight 76 is perhaps the best skate for its price on the market ($200)
  • Relaxing the toes and arch. Many novice skaters curl their toes to "grip" the skate. This is a primate falling reflex -- very important for tree dwellers. When skating the muscle strain produces pain. Try to constantly move the toes about and resist toe curling.
  • Strong ankle support and a firm ankle retention may secure the foot, and reduce foot strain and mid-foot pressure during skating.
  • Limit skating to very smooth surfaces which produce less vibration.
  • Use softer wheels (78A). Note they will wear faster. I don't know how wheel diameter affects vibration.
  • Try Thorlo Inline skating socks. These $10.00 a pair socks have extra padding at contact areas. I really like them. Campmor ( sells them mail order. The relatively thick socks may make a close fitting skate too tight however, and thereby worsen foot pain.
  • The Technica skates come with "Anti-Vibration System Technology" that is supposed to reduce discomfort from vibration. I don't know if it works. These are very nice but high end skates ($250-$320).
  • Use spenco gell arch supports or other vibration absorbing support. In some cases, however, arch supports increase mid-foot compression and produce more pain. In this case you may want to replace a boot's insole with a thinner insole.
  • Instead of full arch supports, try silicon heel supports (heel cups) alone. These are typically used for heel pain, but in some people they help with midfoot discomfort.
  • Stretch the foot and calf muscles prior to skating.
  • Skate for the first 15 minutes with very loose laces, or with the mid-buckle unlatched. Then gradually tighten the skate as the foot warms-up. Some persons feel an actual lack of blood perfusion to the distal foot from a tight mid-boot.
  • Persons with wide feet may prefer Ultra Wheel skates, which have a wide last. The wider UltraWheels are, per the manufacturer: The Great One, UltraAir, Infinity and Vision.
  • Some persons with foot pain buy a longer skate than their foot sizing would suggest. It's possible to fill the empty toe space with some foam. It's possible that the longer boot has more vertical room in the mid-foot area. Mid-foot compression seems to be a significant problem for many skaters.
  • Some ski boot retaillers do custom fitting and insert design. This is expensive, but some folks say it helped a lot.
  • People with "duck feet" (feet point outwards in a relaxed position, this may actually have to do with tibial or femur orientation) may experience discomfort from twisting the feet forwars. Try adopting a less "proper" skating style for the first 10-20 minutes of skating until the foot muscles stretch a bit.
  • Try keeping the feet in motion, and avoid prolonged gliding. Doing regular gentle curves and easy constant foot motion may decrease discomfort.
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