I’m happy to report that after seven hours of ice time in my new ice skates, version 2.0, I can indeed feel my toes… and they feel good. My ankles are a little tender, but the skates are over-all very comfortable and I haven’t lost any of my skating program elements. However, this whole experience did get me thinking about the need for orthotics in figure skates. Depending on who you ask, they are either absolutely essential, or a complete waste of time and money.
My athletic therapist feels that orthotics are seldom necessary, and if anything, they prevent natural foot movement. During last week’s torture, I mean therapy session, we had an intense discussion on the subtleties of pronation and how the human foot is supremely adaptable to whatever we throw at it — as long as it is free to move. Given my background in rehabilitation medicine, my personal feeling is that orthotics are a last ditch resort after everything else such as a different model of ice skate or corrective/strengthening exercises have been tried, or if there is some type of special situation like a foot deformity or medical condition.
When I Googled “Are orthotics good for you,” the page one articles seemed to be divided into two camps: the “Anti-orthotic” faction sites, where the general consensus was that orthotics serve no useful function and are a scam and the “pro-orthotic” faction sites, which tended to be run by podiatrists or those who sold orthotics.
When I Googled “figure skating orthotics,” every single entry on page one felt orthotics were essential for figure skating success. Of course, most of the links led to orthotics suppliers. Then again, Google Searches are not the place to go to if you want a balanced view of a topic.
The pro-orthotics lobby’s thesis for orthotics is that skaters pronate their feet excessively when they bend their knees. This can contribute to a variety of unpleasant situations, such as pain in / or injury to other joints. It may also contribute to technical problems, such as difficulty holding an outside edge, landing a jump, or flutzing a lutz. Since skaters’ feet and ankle movements are restricted by the stiffness of their boot and since jump landings exert such high degrees of force on the human body, the only way to compensate for the tendency to pronate is to continually push the foot into inversion.
Sounds sensible. Except… the rehab person in me wonders if static positioning that is blocking the foot from moving in its natural way when needed is a long-term solution. Dancers face a similar situation when wearing pointe shoes. In classical ballet, use of orthotics is not an option and dancers consciously train and strengthen their feet and indeed their entire body to avoid excessive pronation at all times.
In fact, it was only when I resumed ballet classes last fall that I realized how weak my feet and ankles had become. Seldom in any of the “pro-orthotic” articles was there any mention of training skaters in proper body alignment or strengthening underutilized muscles.
Have you tried orthotics in your skates? Did they help or hinder your skating? Share your opinions and ideas with us!