Whether you're in a skate park in the Northeast, cruising the boardwalks of California, or playing a game of roller hockey in the Midwest, inline skating is good exercise and an excellent off-season training program for hockey and skiing.
Why Is Inline Skating Safety Important?
Inline skating has exploded in popularity. Skaters can be found most everywhere that bicyclists, skateboarders, and joggers go. This greatly increases the chances of painful collisions.
Most of the many thousands of inline skating injuries that happen each year are to skaters who aren't wearing safety gear. The most commonly injured body parts are the hands and arms, although abrasions to other areas of the body are common. Most seriously, head injuries can plague skaters who don't wear helmets.
Always wear safety gear — and make sure you have it on properly — anytime you go inline skating. Here's a rundown of what you'll need when you skate:
- Helmet. A helmet is a must every time you skate. It's the most important piece of safety equipment. Bicycle helmets are better than nothing, but you really should invest in a helmet designed specifically for inline skating or skateboarding. These come down lower in the back, toward the base of the skull, for maximum protection in the event of a backward fall. Plus, they just look cooler.
Helmets must fit properly. Helmets that are too large or improperly fastened can come off during a fall. If you need fit or sizing tips, ask when you buy the helmet. And always fasten chin straps snugly under your chin so the helmet doesn't move around.
- Skates. You'll want a sturdy pair of inline skates, with plenty of ankle support. One way to check if skates offer the support you need is to feel the plastic of the boot. If you can squeeze it, the material is not strong enough. Be sure to get skates that match your needs whether you're planning on racing, competing in freestyle events or just casually rolling down the boardwalk.
Check your skates before you put them on. Make sure that wheels and brakes are in good shape and tightly secured. If wheels or brakes are misshapen or worn, replace them right away. Check that any buckles are in proper working order. Always buckle up your skates and keep them nice and snug when you skate.
- Pads. Cuts, scrapes, and sprained or broken wrists are a constant danger to inline skaters. At a minimum you'll want to wear knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards every time you skate. Knee and elbow pads should have a cushioned interior with a hard plastic shell to protect against scrapes. Wrist guards should be made from rigid plastic that holds the wrist securely in place in the event of a fall. All pads should fit properly and be securely fastened at all times.
- Other Gear. Some skaters like to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts below their pads for extra protection against scrapes and cuts. Light gloves can keep your fingers safe. Lastly, fitted mouthguards are a good idea in any activity that might involve falls or collisions.
Where and When to Skate
Choosing the right place to skate can go a long way toward preventing injuries, particularly for beginner or first-time skaters. When you're learning to skate, try to pick an area that is free of obstacles and other people, such as empty parking lots, unused tennis courts, or an expanse of smooth pavement with grass beside it, like a bike or other recreational trail. (Grass alongside the pavement will give you a soft place to fall as you learn to skate.)
Once your skills have advanced a little, you might want to consider heading to an indoor or outdoor skating rink before moving on to a skate park or trail. Rinks are generally kept clean and free of debris and obstacles. Although they may be crowded, the flow of traffic is controlled and monitored so you can get used to skating near other people.
Skate parks generally offer simpler features for novice skaters, as well as more advanced features for experts. Be honest about your abilities, and never try to take on a ramp or bowl until you're a good enough skater to tackle them safely.
Avoid sidewalks and roads as much as possible. They're the sites of roughly half of all inline skating injuries. Try to use recreational trails. If you must use sidewalks or roads, never skate in traffic; be courteous to pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone else you might encounter; and always use crosswalks to get across streets.
Wherever you skate, be sure there are no potholes, cracks, or other obstacles. Make certain the area is dry and free of wet leaves, oily patches, or ice. Never skate at night, and try to avoid skating at dusk, when hazards are more difficult to see and you're less visible to others. Never skate when it's raining or snowing, as this will make surfaces slippery and increase your chances of getting hurt.
Before You Start Skating
Better skaters have more fun and are less likely to get injured. Consider taking a lesson from a trained instructor or experienced skater before you try skating on your own. Know how to turn, control speed, stop, and skate with your head up so you can recognize and avoid obstacles and other people. Practice falling on grass or a gym mat so that when a real fall happens you'll be prepared to fall the right way.
Each time you head out, warm up with a gentle 5-minute skate and then stretch to keep your muscles and joints loose. This will help you avoid muscle tears and pulls.
Double-check to make sure you have all the necessary safety gear and that it is all being worn properly. Check to make sure your helmet's chin strap is fastened and snug.
If you're planning to skate on a trail, know how far you intend to go and how long it will take you to get back. Tell a family member or friend where you're going and how long you will be gone.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know where other skaters, pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers are, and be sure to give them plenty of space to avoid collisions. If you're skating in a skate park, practice good etiquette by waiting until the area is clear and it's your turn to skate.
Stay to the right when skating on sidewalks, bike paths, and trails. If you're going to pass another person, do so on the left, and let them know you are coming by yelling out, "On your left!" Only pass when it's safe and there is room enough for you and the other person.
Watch out for changing conditions due to weather or other factors. Just because the pavement is smooth in one spot doesn't mean it will be smooth a hundred yards ahead. If you feel like you're approaching an area with a wet, oily, or cracked riding surface, slow down until you are sure it's safe to proceed.
Don't skate while wearing headphones unless you are in a controlled environment. Listening to music while skating will make it difficult to hear traffic, pedestrians, or other skaters.
Try to find a friend or friends to skate with. This will not only be more fun, but you'll also be able to look out for one another and get help in the event of an emergency. If you and your skating partners skate on a trail or sidewalk, make sure to form a single-file line.
A Few Other Reminders
- Never get towed behind a car, bike, or other vehicle. This is a sure-fire way to seriously hurt yourself.
- If you're skating outside on a sunny day, don't forget to apply sunscreen.
- Stay in control at all times. Losing control is the leading cause of inline skating injuries.
- If you plan to skate on private property, make sure you have the owner's permission to do so.
- Be courteous and polite to other skaters and anyone else you might encounter while skating. This will help you avoid confrontations and help prevent the possibility of skating being banned in your area. You can have a great time skating, but do whatever you can to make sure everyone else has a great time too.
Reviewed by: Alfred Atanda Jr., MD
Date reviewed: May 2010
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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