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OFFSIDE Coach Al: The Science of Skating - Part 3 (Symptoms of restrictions)

By Al Taylor (a.k.a. Mr. Rhonda), Senior Staff Columnist

The principles of human motion clearly indicate the absolute need for the ankle to have unrestricted access to dorsiflexion, which is the ability to lean forward.

No one can sit or stand; move forward or backward; jump or land; without first leaning forward. Even in bare feet, conventional footwear, or on skates, the need to first lean forward is inescapable.

First leaning forward positions puts the body weight over the balls of the feet. This gives the body the necessary agility, stability and balance that it needs to move with ease.

The number of people who do not have any understanding about the need to first lean forward is amazing.

Everyone takes their ability to move with ease as a given. Go to any skating session and judge for yourself.

There should be no difficulty spotting these skaters. They are:

  • Very young skaters, in a learning to skate program, crawling around on the ice on all fours.

  • Skaters supported by one or both parents as they move around the ice surface with leg movements similar to that of a bobblehead doll.

  • Skaters who cannot stand up under their own power after a fall.

  • Beginners falling backwards from the standing position.

  • Skaters walking on their skates that frequently fall backwards.

  • Skaters sharply bent at the waist pushing a chair across the ice surface.

  • Skaters bent at the waist with clumsy leg movement.

  • Skaters who have a noticeable high heel kick at the end of their stride.

  • Skaters skating with robotic-type of movement.

  • Skaters who never seem to pick up speed, regardless of their stride rate.

  • Skaters trying to skate backwards by wiggling their buttocks or doing crossovers.

All of these skaters have the same common problem even though they show different symptoms. They all have a restriction to dorsiflexion.

To underscore the disastrous results of dorsiflexion restriction, take your iPhone or camera to a hockey practice or game. It’s during these events that serious skating occurs. During the action, take a number of photos with as many skaters as possible in each frame. Examine the photographs. Do you see the problem that seems to continue unabated due to no recognition of the problem? You should see that every skater’s foot appears to be glued to the lower leg in the neutral position (90 degrees to the lower leg) regardless of the position of the leg. This situation occurs at all levels of the game.

A nasty symptom of a skater’s fight to overcome the ankle’s restriction to dorsiflexion is a painful, nasty lesion on the front of the ankle just under the knot in the top lace position. The lesion does not seem to respond to treatment. It usually occurs after a period of intense aggressive skating and lasts until the end of the season often ulcerating from the repetitive pressure. The name of this sore is lace bite. It is also called ankle bite or boot bite. The lesion is the ankle’s way of saying that something is stopping its need to increase in size. There are many thoughts on how to treat this injury but all seem to no avail. It appears that only rest will heal the problem. However, there is a sure-fire treatment for this injury.

Here is a restriction that every skater, from newbie to probie, has:

  • A bent knee at the end of the stride

In fact, skaters are the only athletes in the world who have a plantar flexion restriction. They cannot flatten their knee at the end of the stride in order to maximize momentum.

It is not clear why hockey players are willing to give up the benefit of a jaw dropping increase in speed and strength of leg extension from plantar flexion. Particularly so when plantar flexion controls two of the most powerful muscles in the body, which are the thigh and the ankle.

Yet every one of these skaters walked into the arena showing no problems with movement until they put their skates on and stepped onto the ice.

The skater that falls making a tight turn simply lost the battle with physics. Losing an edge was simply the wrong conclusion. There is a law of physics that says stability occurs when an object is supported between at least two points. In this case, the skater allowed his body weight to move outside of the two support points; namely their feet. Then gravity took over and the fall was inevitable.

More from OFFSIDE Al next week!

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