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General Ice Skating and Figure Skating are very arduous and strenuous sports; they require stupendous effort and involvement of every part of the body. No move can be carried out without attempting to move the lower part of the body with immaculate coordination with the upper part. Therefore, it is imperative that each of the body parts is intact while ice skating. But, what about those who have been amputated and have a prosthetic leg, can they still enter the ice rink and practice ice skating? Well! It is based on how much are you amputated and how much your leg has been damaged. 

Diagram showing different types of lower limb Prostheses

Levels Of Amputation

Ice Skating with Above-Knee Amputation

In this scenario, the whole limb, including the hip joint, has to be fixed with a prosthetic leg (H.D). Or an amputation below the hip joint, which is known as ‘above the knee’ (AK, transfemoral), in which the whole limb, below the hip joint, has to be fixed with an artificial leg. In these conditions, it becomes extremely difficult to even take a single step on an ice rink. In a complete prosthetic leg, there is no knee joint, therefore, a skater can not flex the artificial limb.

There is very little control over the prosthetic leg in this state and hence, gliding becomes almost impossible for the novice. A person with a complete lower artificial limb would feel as if they were pulling something or rather dragging their leg on ice while attempting to do a glide. And even if there is a knee joint available in the artificial leg, it can never work perfectly. Although a prosthetic leg with a knee joint provides a bit more control and movement.

So can you ice skate with a prosthetic leg? Balancing becomes exceedingly difficult as there is less control over the artificial leg. An amputee with above the knee prosthetic leg can not attempt any move or spin except for gliding on the ice. There is no control over the ankle joint that plays an important role in balancing on the ice and is pivotal in attempting moves such as spinning and jumping. But that does not mean an amputee can never be able to ice skate. A prosthetic limb can never feel like the natural one but with practice, some basic moves of ice skating can be achieved for recreation purposes. 

How to get ice Skating with a AK Prosthetic

To start with ice skating as an amputee you first need to learn to balance yourself on the ice. For this purpose, the Hein-A-Ken skate-aid can be used, it is like a hospital walker and built to aid skaters with physical disability especially in the lower limb. It will help to sustain balance and it will start the initial movement for the skater. Moreover, it will help in alleviating the mental barrier from the mind of the skater. After the first step which is to learn to balance, the next step is to learn to glide.

For this purpose, you need to have the support of an expert skater. In this step, you need to hold the skater’s waist from behind and glide with your partner at a very slow pace. Do not rush things at this stage, consider yourself as a child who has just started walking. Gliding at a very slow speed will help in adjusting your prosthetic limb. Furthermore, a slow pace will help to synchronise your artificial leg with the natural leg. If you think you are comfortable with the movement then gradually increase your pace and release your partner. This will help gain confidence by gliding on the ice freely, but if you fall, try to roll over your body through your shoulder and avoid impact on the prosthetic limb.

Once you learn to glide on the ice, other basic movements are then possible to attempt. For turning and changing directions, you can engage your waist, hips, and the natural leg. You even can attempt short jumps by using only one leg for both take-off and landing. The artificial leg will provide support while landing by reducing the impact, but it will still have an impact on the knee and ankle joints of the natural leg. If the jumps are not performed properly it will even cause some ankle and knee injuries and if the prosthetic leg suffers the impact, it will get damaged on the ice rink.

Ice Skating with Below-Knee Amputation (BKA)

In a below-knee amputation or transtibial amputation, which includes the foot, ankle joint, and calf muscle, the prosthetic leg does not limit much of the movements. The main advantage of this amputation is that you still have your knee intact that supports many basic and advanced movements in ice skating. But not having a natural ankle joint and not being able to flex the ankle joint can restrict the jumps and control during the glide. At the beginning for every skater with any amputation, it will be a strenuous and uphill task to start over again. The main problem with a prosthetic leg is balancing yourself on ice because you can not move your ankle joint and foot freely. Hence, it makes balancing extremely difficult.

Another limitation in a below-knee prosthetic leg, is control over a major part of the leg is lost and ergo, movements become confined. As the ankle joint can not be flexed, the swift and brisk movement in ice skating can not be performed. Not only is ground movement restricted but, also jumping and extra stress on the other ankle joint while landing. Some advanced movements such as sidestep cross-lateral movement become exceedingly difficult as the agility of a skater becomes limited. 

Below-knee amputation does not make any move impossible, it only makes them harder. A properly designed custom prosthetic leg can help in achieving any move and jump. Initially, it is going to be hard for any person to get used to an artificial leg, but when you adjust it becomes a lot easier. Advanced moves are still difficult to execute with a prosthetic leg but, even basic moves can cause great stress on the natural foot and ankle joint.

So, when you start over again after prosthetic leg implantation, you need to keep in mind that it is an artificial leg and it can not replace the natural one, hence many of the movements are going to limited and restricted. For the person who wants to do ice skating for the first time in life and has a prosthetic leg, he or she must do it in a very careful and heedful way. Because falling on an ice rink is quite normal and can cause injuries. Therefore, an amputee must be extra cautious and watchful while training with an artificial limb.

Benefits Of Ice Skating For An Amputee

Ice skating is not just a sport for an amputee or a person with a prosthetic leg but, it is also used as a therapeutic activity to overcome gait deviation and gait abnormality. People who can not walk properly carrying an artificial leg are usually advised to do ice skating to overcome this issue. Ice skating helps in strengthening the quadricep muscles for the below-knee amputee. And for the person with an above-knee amputation, it can help in shifting the weight in the ischial area (that makes up the hip) while moving forward during skating at a very slow pace. All in all, for every type of amputation, ice skating is a remarkable aid to strengthen the body and move properly while carrying a prosthetic leg.

Psychological Obstacles of Ice skating with a Prosthetic

It is more a mental hindrance than a physical disability for a person with an amputation to start over ice skating again and any other sport for that matter. The mind will not overcome any trauma or accident that causes great pain unless you have a tremendous temperament and have a rock solid mind. If you do not have a good temperament, your mind would be stuck and it will not accept the transition. People who get amputated, spend the rest of their lives sitting in the wheelchair and never try to take a step forward to even walk on their legs. 

The same happens with people who want to do ice skating. The mental hindrance will not allow them to take a step forward on the ice rink. Your brain will keep on telling you that you are not capable of doing this but, you have to fight with your brain constantly to keep yourself on track. The start will always be difficult, the very first step will be the most difficult one, but no matter how hard it is, it can be overcome. People have a fear in their mind that if they come on an ice rink they will only fall over. This fear needs to be removed as falling is absolutely normal even for the people with no physical disabilities. Therefore, you just need to take a step forward and not overthink the results. 

A prosthetic leg will never feel like a natural one. It feels as if you are carrying extra weight or burden with yourself, hence,  ice skating does not come naturally to people with an amputation. It becomes frustrating sometimes when you try so hard and end up doing nothing, as in ice skating when you can not move your artificial leg freely and even a simple and basic move becomes impossible. At this moment, you need to have the support of your loved ones that keep you moving whether it be family, friends, or even a good mentor. To get started with ice skating on the ice rink, the mental blockage needs to be alleviated.

Another aspect of this psychological issue is that people get carried away and rush into things with overexcitement. As in every situation of life, when you start learning skills you want to finish it quickly and do not give proper time to some critical learning and practices. The same goes for starting over ice skating with having a prosthetic leg. When people start to glide on ice with an artificial leg, they want to do every single jump and move, ignoring the fact that it can be impossible for even a normal person to execute those advanced skills so early in the training. People need to realise that “slow and steady wins the race” if you rush into things you will get carried away and it will only harm your training and progression.

Figure Skater Inspiration For All

The world is full of inspirational people who left behind their fear and never make their disabilities an excuse. For them, the sky is the limit and their physical disability will not affect their goals. It only makes them stronger not only physically but in mind. Among them is Craig Cunningham, a past Canadian professional ice hockey player who proved that no disability could make him leave the sport he loved the most.

The former National Hockey League (NHL) player collapsed on the ice before a match in American Hockey League and had suffered a heart attack in Nov 2016. After recovering he became aware that his left leg had been amputated below the knee due to the infection caused by a circulation issue. This must have been heart-wrenching for him as it would end his professional career and he would not be able to enter into an ice rink again as a player. But with everyone’s surprise, he not only recovered from this trauma but he also got back into skating.

After three years of that unfortunate incident, Craig posted a video with him ice skating with his prosthetic leg, it blew everyone away with the way he skated. He mentioned in an interview that he was very nervous when people gathered around and he was skating for the first time after that tragic incident. He came out to be a master in his domain. He is now serving as a professional scout for Arizona Coyotes. 

Another inspiration for us is Heather Mills, a model, and charity campaigner who lost her leg due to a traffic collision with a police motorcycle in London in 1993. But despite her horrific injuries including a below-knee amputation of her left leg she went on to inspire millions around the world years later by competing in ‘Dancing on Ice’, something that no other amputee had ever done and was told prior to the show by other professional skaters that it was impossible for an amputee to skate with a prosthetic leg.

Heather Mills Ice skating with prosthetic leg on Dancing on

We thank Heather Mills for the image approvals for use of these pictures.