Aug 13 2012
Toward the end of my physical therapy my therapists began to run out of things for me to do. The routine became adding more weight and more reps to previous exercises. Booooorrrrrring!! As an exercise physiology major in undergrad, I began to think back to what I could do as a sport specific movement that would a) be low impact, b) strengthen the lateral leg muscles and calves, and c) be fun!!
Since I was still having sorness and stiffness when I ran (1-3 miles) I wanted to wait a little while longer before I started running again. So in my brainstorming I came up with ice skating. My therapists cringed at first, but when I explained my reasoning, sport specific lateral movements similar to cutting in lacrosse, and low impact to the legs and tendon, they were like, “why didn’t we think of that”. I agreed to get really good pair of skates to support my ankles while I started skating again, and we crafted a few exercises to get me conditioned.
The first exercise was a basic foot speed/endurance drill where we taped an 18″ square on the floor. With the injured leg I hopped from corner to corner clockwise and then counterclockwise, 10 reps, 2 sets until I could complete each cycle without stopping and landing accurately (pushing-off strength). It took me a few weeks to get up the strength and endurance, but I saw the strength gains and flexibility increasing in my calf and ankle. After that, we moved to the slide board to mimic the lateral pushing movements of ice skating and build up the upper leg muscles too. I would slide for 15 min. I felt I got just as an intense a work out from these two exercies as any treadmill run, and no pounding on the tendon or weaker lower leg.
After I felt my leg was strong enough (2 weeks of the jumps and sliding), I went out and got a higher end pair of skates and ventured out for my first session at the skating rink. Although I grew up ice skating and playing pond hockey I was bit tenative about how my ankle and tendon would feel. I laced the skates up tight and off I went. At the end of an hour of skating, my ankle and tendon felt looser than it did after a run!! I am still making ROM gains on the injured ankle too.
At 6.5 months post injury (no surgery) I am playing beginner adult hockey once a week and do a skill skate 1-2 days a week. The muscle mass in my calf is now noticibly returing to normal and I skate without pain, and I get a decent aerobic workout as well, with no post workout pain. The skating has also done wonders for the tendonitis that developed in my right leg, and the pain or stiffness associated with it gets more infrequent. Now I can skate with the top of my skates loose and flex my ankle even more, as my ankles and calves are strong enough to suppport me.
In line with my theme of competitive athlete, I also stay after my hockey lesson and play pick-up for an hour, so it satisfies my mental desire to get back in the team play environment. Of course if you don’t have access to a skating rink or want to play hockey, rollerblading accomplishes the same movements and results, plus you can go for running length distance for a really great workout.
I always ride my stationary bike for 5-10 min and then stretch out before I leave to play hockey or skate, and the proper skating technique aids to contuniually loosens the ankle and stretches out the tendon. There are plenty of books at the library or quick skating tutorials on “YouTube” to get some basic instruction. So, for those looking to get out of the house and off the treadmill and stationary bike, skating is a great low-impact way to return to moving the body, build up your leg and calf strength and gain flexibility. As always, start easy, do what you can tolerate and gradually build up your routines. Best of luck and stay positive in your recovery process.