The Effects of Chronic and Acute Pain on Figure Skating Technique and Training (Chris Conte, Trevor Laak)

In the very short video below, National coach Chris Conte explains that skaters in pain almost always lack the ability to train through the pain successfully when they are attempting skills they have never mastered or had success with. The context of this observation is a lesson Chris is giving a skater with a high chronic pain level.

Chris says, “Even if you have mild pain in a jump, if [a skater is] working on a an un-captured element like a triple they don’t have yet, and they’re experiencing any pain, it’s enough to make them back off of the execution of the jump. So it’s a little bit futile to work on the jump.”


Some additional thoughts and comments by iCoachSkating editor Trevor Laak:

There appears to be frightfully little formal research on this topic, so the kind of observation that Chris makes here is very helpful. Coaches and skating parents who encourage skater training of new elements through moderate to severe pain, may be offering counterproductive advice.

Yes, athletic training at the highest levels is filled with stories of motivated athletes training through extreme pain to accomplish astonishing feats or performances. But in the case of almost every person reading this page, the long term health and success of any athlete should take priority.

Pain is typically a warning the body provides that something is wrong. Pain is not normal. Those athletes that train in perpetual pain typically run a number of disturbing risks.

1. Chronic pain has been shown to alter the brain’s structure, meaning it not only hurts, but it may leave lasting mental and physiological effects.

2. The subconscious mind typically makes an effort to avoid pain, meaning a skater in pain may be compensating in their movements to avoid pain, even though not consciously trying to. Thus, training through pain may cause unwanted changes in athletic technique, which may result in other injuries or it may dramatically extend the time until skill mastery.

3. Research clearly shows the cause and effect relationship between depression and pain. Those suffering with chronic pain have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

The best advice for pain is always to see a doctor to understand the underlying cause the pain. When doctors clear skaters to continue skating, coaches can help by identifying if pain is altering skating or jump technique, or by helping skaters recognize the need to back off and get healthy in order to make maximum progress.

Training through pain successfully requires walking a fine line between training volume, negative effects on technique, and the potential for faster overall progress from simply halting training to allow the body to heal. It is encouraging that old-school ideas about “toughing it out” are starting to be replaced with more rational approaches to athletic success and athlete well-being.


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