Common Ice Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Originally published November 5, 2019

Last updated June 4, 2024

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Learn how to protect yourself and your children from injury while enjoying these winter sports.

Ice skating can be fun at any age, but it isn’t without risk: In 2018, 48,000 people in the United States went to a doctor’s office, hospital or emergency room with ice skating injuries. Not only that, 76,000 went to a doctor’s office, hospital or emergency room with snow skiing injuries; 53,000 with snowboarding injuries; and 22,000 with injuries from sledding and tobogganing. Whether from complex jumps in figure skating or “checking” in ice hockey (running into another player on purpose so they’ll drop the puck), ice sports present certain dangers that can lead to injury.

The good news is that many ice sports injuries can be prevented. Here are some common ones and how to avoid them.

What injuries can occur during figure skating?

Research suggests that figure skating injuries are on the rise, with single skaters more at risk for overuse injuries due to increasingly difficult jumps and longer training sessions. Pairs skaters, meanwhile, are more at risk for traumatic injuries due to throwing and lifting.

“Figure skating injuries can be either acute, due to one event or injury, or chronic, often due to overuse,” says Cara Jean Hall, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine expert at Keck Medicine of USC. “Examples of acute injuries include bone bruises from a direct impact or fall, head injuries including concussions, fractures and sprains. For skaters that participate in jumping, there is a higher risk of these acute impact injuries.”

Overuse injuries are also common. “Frequently, we see overuse injuries often affecting the knee, hip and ankle,” she says. “These can be due to inflammation, muscle imbalances, improper form and overtraining. Putting a higher load on the body over a long period of time can lead to cartilage damage as well as stress reactions.”

Skates can also cause a bony growth on the heel called “pump bump” or Haglund’s deformity, which affects almost half of all figure skaters. It occurs when boots are too wide in the back and the heel repeatedly slides up and down against the boot.

How can I stay safe when I’m figure skating?

Proper training, technique and equipment maintenance are imperative to avoiding figure skating injuries. Hall recommends the following to prevent injuries:

  • Reduce your exposure to high g-force landings, particularly when learning new jumps or skills.
  • Train off the ice, with the assistance of a harness, to help ensure proper form prior to practicing new elements on the ice.
  • Proper recovery may be the most important aspect to injury prevention. Spend at least 10 minutes for every hour of training to focus on stretching and flexibility.
  • Participate in other athletic activities to help prevent overuse injuries and make the sport more enjoyable, especially for young athletes.
  • Off-the-ice conditioning and core strength training are essential to preventing both acute and chronic conditions.

Training is essential to stay safe, Hall emphasizes. “While cardiovascular health is important to maintain endurance, injury prevention is rooted in strength and balance training to ensure proper form and technique. I highly recommend cross-training in the form of weightlifting or yoga to gain core control and balance that may be used both on and off the ice.”

In addition, she says, “Adequate nutrition and hydration both before and after skating is necessary for recovery. When participating in higher-risk skating like jumps and partner work, practice with a coach and on more forgiving surfaces before transitioning to the ice. For younger athletes, I encourage parents to promote other sports and activities to prevent both injury and burnout from single-sports specialization.”

It’s called a “collision sport” for a reason

Ice hockey — a high-velocity sport involving finesse, speed and power — is gaining popularity in the United States. Record numbers of children, as well as adults, are now playing. But no matter your age, you may be at risk of injury, depending on numerous factors, ranging from your participation level to other players’ behavior.

“Ice hockey is unique in that is dynamic,” says Hall. “The fast pace, the skill, the ice and the agility involved make injuries likely to occur.”

Head injuries and concussions have been identified as some of the most common injuries in ice hockey. “Concussions are a common injury in ice hockey that can happen due to a direct or indirect injury to the head that results in an injury to the brain,” Hall says. “This presents with symptoms such as headache, feeling in a fog, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and trouble focusing.”

Because symptoms can evolve over 48 hours or more, she advises having an athlete evaluated if there is any concern about a concussion.

Other common ice hockey injuries include shoulder separations (commonly the acromioclavicular, or shoulder, joint), hip pain, hand fractures, wounds and knee ligament injuries.

How to stay injury-free playing ice hockey

It’s a good idea for anyone who wants to play ice hockey to have a proper preseason physical exam to identify who might be at heightened risk of injury, Hall says.

“Because of the dynamic nature of hockey, it is important to maintain flexibility and muscle balance. A sports medicine physician can evaluate you for any preexisting injuries that should be addressed prior to starting play. Using the correct protective equipment and following league rules around checking can specifically prevent head injuries.”

She also recommends keeping the following in mind to prevent injuries:

  • Make sure your gear, including a helmet with face guard, mouth guard, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, cup, shin guards and skates, fits properly and isn’t worn out.
  • Maintain an off-the-ice workout regimen for conditioning.
  • Play by the rules, especially those that prohibit hits to the head or checking from behind, to keep yourself and others safe.
  • Look where you’re going, not down at the puck, to prevent skating into something.

Whether you’re a new skater or an old hand at it, follow these tips to have fun, stay safe and develop good habits for a long career on and off the ice.


Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a freelance writer covering health, culture, travel and parenting.