Modifying Skate Fit and Balance:

Equalize Pressure

© 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015 by Mitchell Grunes

Boot Pressure Image It is highly desirable to approximately equalize pressure over all parts of your foot, except in front of and beside the toes. This helps you effectively control the boot, and therefore the edge. If there is a gap or low pressure point between part of your foot and the boot, you will have trouble exerting pressure there, or there may be times when the boot is not under control as you switch from one edge to the other, or change your lean. As mentioned earlier, low pressure points are also places where the boot can slide against your foot or sock (if you use one), causing blisters, calluses and corns. Equalizing pressure will also help prevent overuse injuries of muscles and ligaments that bear the asymmetric load on your feet.

Pressure equalization is accomplished on the bottom of the foot by sticking athletic tape under the insole, where required. (Don't forget that when you flip the insole over, you reverse left and right! I.e., to better support the inside of the foot, flip the insole over, and tape the outside, then flip the insole back and re-insert it into the boot. Likewise, to better support the outside of the foot, flip the insole and tape the outside.) You can alternately tape the surface of the boot. (If you remove the insole completely, you may also want to cover exposed threads, so you don't indent the foot there.) I recommend that you do not create strong sudden transitions in the shape of the insole, but keep the modifications smooth.

Near other parts of the foot, you can apply tape to the leather on the inside of the boot, but it will tend to come off. Moleskin sticks better to the sides of the boot than athletic tape. Or apply adhesive felt.

It is equally important to recognize that selective unequal pressure can be useful.

Toes are a special exception to pressure equalization. We all know that footwear of all types should leave "room to wiggle your toes". For the health of your toes, leave a little room in front of and to the sides of all toes. Failing to do so leads to various medical problems, including a variety of issues termed "hallux valgus". E.g., failing to do so in front can create foot deformations and problems like "hammer toes" or "mallet toes". Failing to do so on the side can produce problems like corns, bunions and crossed toes.

Common Skating Injuries And What To Do About Them says that if the boots press against the tendons on the outsides of the lower legs at the top of the boots too strongly the tendons could rupture on high jumps. E.g., many skaters rupture Achilles tendons at the back of the leg, during jumps. Perhaps this is because the back of the skate digs into the back of the foot when you strongly point for jumps. So it may be a good idea to make sure skates are well padded at the top, and are somewhat looser fit on the back inside, above the ankle.

Ice dancers prefer boots that are cut lower in the back. In addition, many skaters, including many high level freestyle skaters, prefer to leave open space in front and in back of the foot, above the ankle bones. In addition, many people prefer boots that do not have a sharp edge at the top of the boots, so they don't cut against the legs. These things also makes it easier to jump and land, by making it easier to point their toes, especially with the very stiff boots that high level freestyle skaters use. They still need pressure from the sides of the boot, including at ankle level, to provide safe support for jumps or deep edges. As stated in the previous page, with that style fit, there will be a reduced boot lifetime (e.g., 3 - 6 months instead of 2 - 10 years) because there is room for a breakdown crease to form, but many people think it worth it. You should also use stiffer boots to slow that breakdown, but if you are a high level freestyle skater, you probably need that anyway. Again, as described in the previous page, they also need to cover parts of the skin against which motion can occur because of loose contact with silicone pads (or adhesive strips, or sports wrap), to avoid bruising and/or blisters.

Flat Feet, Pronation and Supination

We introduced these medical issues here. They are best diagnosed, evaluated and treated by medically trained experts, which I am not. A skater with medical issues might reasonably consult with an appropriate medical expert, or imitate while customizing their insole the types of foot support an orthotic provided by a medical expert creates. The best you can do without expert diagnosis is to experiment with many techniques until you find one that works, but that may not achieve all the right medical goals.

Some people need some extra pressure at specific points to be comfortable and healthy. For example, if you have an over-extended tendon, such as in "flat feet", that occurs when your arch collapses, you may need to a bump under your arch to avoid tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon, which is an end of a muscle). E.g., that might occur if a ligament in your foot that would otherwise stop the collapse is longer than the muscle. A very few people need the sides of their feet to be pinched together near the arch, too, to immobilize the affected joints.

In pronation, a foot edges inwards, placing weight on the inside of the foot, as when skating an inside edge, and/or an ankle or knee bends inwards. In supination, a foot edges outwards, placing weight on the outside of the foot, as when skating an outside edge, and/or an ankle or knee bends outwards. Pronation and supination are used in different medical contexts to refer to a variety of problems, as well as to motions in somewhat different directions, by different medical specialties. For example, podiatrists refer to "excess pronation" and "excess supination" when the motion or position goes beyond normal healthy bounds, and they refer to side-to-side motions, whereas Orthopedists commonly use pronation and supination to refer to injuries that require treatment, and they often use them to refer to motions which combine a flexed foot with an outwards edge, or a pointed foot with an inwards edge, i.e., to motion along a somewhat different axis of motion. In addition, pronation and supination may refer to issues that occur because of the foot shape, or to motions of the ankle, some other part of the foot, the knee and/or hip. Both feet may or may not do the same thing (e.g., in swizzles, both feet pronate or supinate at the same time, whereas in slalom skating patterns, one foot pronates while the other supinates.) Likewise, two feet may or may not have the same medical issues.

As best I understand, when typical people walk, some pronation and supination are normal. The heel strikes approximately in its center, ahead of the body. As the foot rolls forwards, muscles roll it outwards to place the weight on the outside of the foot, into supination. The foot continues to roll forwards. About mid-gait, muscles push the foot outwards and roll it inwards, rocking over into pronation, placing the weight on the inside of the foot. The foot eventually loses contact with the ground behind the body, near the big toe. One source claims that most of the energy creating propulsion comes from muscles creating the sideways rolls, rather than from muscles creating backwards to forwards roll. This is consistent with what you may know as a skater: to skate very fast, as in most speed skating, you touch down with the blade on an outside edge, and push sideways on to an inside edge. Claims have been made the this typical gait is specific to people who wear shoes which both cushion heel bone strikes and which have a raised heel, and that long-term barefoot walkers walk differently. Running is also a little different from walking. Regardless, the actual point of rock over varies from person to person, and not everyone contacts with the heel, or has approximately equal supination and pronation phases. By one definition, you supinate (walk bow-legged) if you mostly walk in a supinated position, with your feet, knees or ankles slanted to the outside, and you pronate if you mostly walk in the opposite pronated position. Neither is considered healthy for the knee or hip, and doctors strive to correct them.

But "good skaters" don't move like normal people. Figure skaters, especially ice dancers, who wish to be rated well are frequently expected to skate in arcs that stay on deep inside edges (very pronated), or that stay on deep outside edges (very supinated). Speed skaters exaggerate the rock over, and eliminate or reverse the forwards roll of the foot. (So do inline skaters, and skate skiers.) Hockey skaters skate mostly on inside edges (pronated), or on two feet at once, for stability. Athletic training hopefully makes what would otherwise be pathological motions and poses reasonably healthy. E.g., we strengthen and stretch appropriate muscles, and possibly ligaments, so we can safely support the positions, and extend the ranges of safe motion.

But there are some types of excess supination and pronation that skaters seek to prevent. If an arch collapses onto the inside or outside, you can over-extend a tendon, just as in flat feet. An appropriately placed bump can eliminate that problem.

An easy to deal with form of supination or pronation is when the overall left-to-right slant of the bottom of a foot doesn't match the slant at the bottom of the boot. This can cause an imbalance, because your foot presses down on one side the boot bottom more than the other. It also makes your foot and/or muscles sore, because one side of your foot supports most of the weight, and you may need to use continuous muscle strength to maintain proper posture. Tape under the appropriate portion of the insole can fill the extra space and equalize the pressure, as discussed on the next page in connection with balance.

Likewise, the side of the boot may not match the shape of your foot either, so that it presses on one side more than the other, and causes you to edge the foot outwards. This is again discussed on the next page in connection with balance, and is solved by placing moleskin on the in side of the boot at appropriate point, to fill and equalize space.

You should avoid letting your ankles bend to the inside or outside most of the time, for safe weight support and perhaps other health reasons, and in figure skating because it looks wrong. Except that deep ankle bends are often used to initiate deep ice dance edges. You can straighten ankles, on average, by applying pressure in ways that are impossible on most shoes, because skates reach a little above the ankle, and fit tightly. Employ differential pressure in three sideways zones, below, at and above the ankle. For example, if your ankle pronates (bends inwards, towards the other foot), you can apply a little extra inwards pressure above and below the ankle, and a little extra outwards pressure at the ankle joint. That combination tends to push the joint straight. This method makes a complete sense from a physics perspective, though I have not heard of medical experts employing this technique, perhaps because it is impossible in lower and looser fit shoes.

One complication to any attempt to limit ankle motion is that the "ankle" comprises several joints, and "ankle motion" involves motion throughout the lower foot, knee, hip and higher. It is hard for untrained individuals to figure out what is going on.

Lauren Downes (PT) warns that many people pronate due to motion in the forefoot, which may not be compensatable using pressures inside the boot.

Sometimes knees bend to the inside or outside. This is both unhealthy, and looks bad in figure skating. In some cases the source of the problem lies in pronation or supination of the foot or ankle, which can be corrected in the boot. Either way, consult with a medical expert.

Medically trained experts know how to employ unequal pressure in other places - e.g., see this discussion by Lauren Downs as well. She has many useful articles for the skater here.

If you have had an orthotic created for you previously, for other shoes or for when your feet were a different size, you might consider imitating the effect of that orthotic in your skating boots. Or get another custom orthotic made for your skates. Some people pay an expert for custom orthotics, but find they must modify them themselves to be more effective or comfortable. To some extent they have wasted several hundred dollars for the custom orthotic, but even an imperfect expert treatment provides many people with a good starting point and the impetus to apply their own ideas.

Heel Height

I have a very incomplete understanding of the issues involving heel height. Most hockey and speed skates have little or no heel elevation. And many of us feel quite comfortable barefoot, or in shoes that have no elevated heel. But figure skaters are expected to not roll their skates onto their toe picks most of the time, except when they do so on purpose. An elevated heel lets us keep our feet in a reasonable position, but effectively pushes the back of the blade down and the toe pick up, so this tends to keep us off our toe picks. To some extent, the same goal can be attained by increasing the thickness of the insole at the back. Since ice dancers don't need to jump much, but do need to perform many movements in which a non-weight supporting leg glides in front of the main skating leg, a position in which it is hard to keep the toe pick from touching, they usually prefer 1/4" to 1/2" (.6 - 1.25 mm) higher heels. I think the elevated heel is also an appearance thing, because the exterior shape of many boots makes the heel look more elevated than it actually is.

If, when skating in proper form, you feel more pressure on the back of the bottom of your foot than on the front, or if you have trouble staying off your toe picks, or have trouble pushing through your heels, during those strokes when that is required, or if you cannot achieve the apparent flexed ankle position (toe pulled back towards your upper leg) some poses require, a higher heel would have helped. Or achieve the same effect, by putting tape under the insole, in the back ("fearfoot posting").

Likewise, if you place most of your pressure on your heel, or have trouble using your toe picks when you want to, or cannot achieve the apparent pointed toe position some poses require, put tape under the front of the insole ("forefoot posting")

However, this is complicated by the fact that pushing the toe or heel too far up or down may push the foot into unintended pronation or supination, for some people. I don't understand the issues, and cannot recommend a fix. It is possible to place the tape on the inside or outside of the heel or front portion of the insole, but I'm not sure whether that solves everything.

In addition, if your heel is too elevated, you may get an inflammation of the connective tissue at the bottom of the foot called Plantar fasciitis, resulting in symptoms like heel pain, and sometimes associated with knee and back pain.

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