Physical Therapy in Figure Skating

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kayla Calhoun, PT, DPT, CSCS (dr.kayla.dpt on instagram) Dr. Kayla is a PT (obviously) and a figuring skating coach. I was very excited for this interview because I know nothing about figures skating but it is such a phenomenal sport to watch, and figure skating is an under represented sport in the research, and therapy world! Dr. Kayla brings her figure skating experience and physical therapy knowledge to hopefully change the sport for the better. As therapists, we see clients post-injury, but it is time to start promoting our skills and knowledge for injury PREVENTION, and Dr. Kayla is doing just that for figure skaters, the hypermobile leaping gazelles that they are. Just like the last interview, I will be presenting this interview straight forward with less narrative for yours truly.

1.) Tell us a little about yourself!

  • Undergrad: University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire. BS in Kinesiology with emphasis on Human Performance.
  • PT School: D’Youville College, Buffalo NY.
  • I am currently working for a large hospital system in outpatient orthopedics. I see a little bit of every diagnosis, but have specialties in chronic pain, pelvic health, hypermobility, and FIGURE SKATING

2.) How did you get into integrating PT in the figure skating practice, and how are you CURRENTLY integrating it?

Growing up as a figure skater, I was always repeatedly injured. Physical therapists gave up on me, and motivated me into the career. Figure skating is an underrepresented sport in research. I’ve had a goal to bring science to figure skating since before PT school and finally officially got started in 2020.

Currently I am excited to teach coaches how to look at movement like a physical therapist. My guide includes an on ice assessment and correlating off ice exercises so coaches can get the results they desire no matter their athlete. To get this guide email me at with the subject GUIDE

3.) What common injuries do you see in the figure skating community?

  • Injuries depend on what type of skating they are participating in. Pairs skaters have different injuries than ice dancers, than freestyle skaters, than synchronized skaters.
  • In freestyle skaters, there are mostly chronic overuse injuries of the lower back injuries and lower extremity. Acute injuries are usually more upper extremity related from a fall or concussion
  • One thing that is unique to figures skating is that athlete’s will retire and still be experiencing skating related injuries. Lots of figure skaters end up with labral repairs and mixed FAI decompression in their teens or 20’s

4.) If not injuries, what are common problems figure skaters come to you for?

Injuries are hard to prevent in figure skating, because of the variety of demands for different avenues. A pairs skater trains differently than an ice dancer, than a freestyle skater. However, there is a high prevalence of hypermobility in figure skating. Figure skaters historically don’t cross trains or weight lift, to decrease their risk of injury associated with hypermobility

5.) Is there a certain age group you work with?

  • Every age, currently I am working with more adult skaters. They also range in level from beginner to triple jumps

6.) What are some key things you check during an evaluation of a figure skater? Do you do more rehab or coaching for injury prevention?

  • Most injury prevention is working with athletes on body awareness, recovery strategies, and incorporating cross training

From a PT standpoint a figure skater is going to be more mobile and have better body awareness than standard. Proprioception will be decreased, however figure skaters have learned to compensate well. They will likely struggle with simpler balance activities, and have no challenge with complex single leg balance activities. Flexibility tests and balance standards have to be individualized.

b.) A few things to check:

  • Where their relaxed posture is, how much do you have to cue to find neutral and can they hold that
  • Standing elbow flexion test
  • Vertical compression test
  • What is their single leg stability like, single leg squat or single leg deadlift
  •  Straight leg raise, not for SIJ pain, but for ability to transfer load from extremity to trunk. Does the opposite ASIS pop up to help stabilize.
  • Single leg balance with eyes closed

I frequently see errors when others are treating foot or ankle pain. Skates are too snug for standard treatment methods. A taped ankle or full foot orthotic won’t fit in the skate. If skater’s are having foot pain, have them head to their trusted skate shop to ensure they are fit appropriately. Rule out skate fit, and blade mounting before adding additional components into the boot. Changing foot mechanics can drastically change performance. In Minnesota we have a podiatrist that makes orthotics specifically for figure skaters.

7.) What does a typical training session with you look like?

  • Highly variable based on their injury and goals. Many figure skaters haven’t ever lifted weights before and have never been cued on how to squat or hinge. We spend a lot of time on those movements making sure we are using the posterior chain.
  • We work on component parts of their on ice skills. I will break down a jump, spin, piece of footwork that they are struggling with and work on specific aspects.
  • I like to make sure I’m getting skaters out of their skates, and even shoes and making sure we are strengthening their feet and ankles. Taking away the stiff boot challenges their proprioception and single leg stability immensely.

8.) How do your clients find you?

  • Right now clients are finding me by word of mouth, coaching referrals, and my social media
  • Long term I would love for other providers to know my name and send skater’s accordingly.

9.)If others are interested in further specializing in this area, what certifications or courses do you recommend they get?

  • Because it is so niche, there isn’t a right way. If you are looking at getting started, just jump in, you will learn a ton along the way.
  • How I got here:
    • Figure skating experience, I wasn’t the best. I was injured a lot.
    • In undergrad my Human Performance emphasis focused on sport performance, preparing me to take NSCA or ACSM advanced certifications
    • In PT school, I took every opportunity to observe or work with dancers, actors, gymnasts, anyone in a performing art
  • Certifications in:
    • Sportsmetrics for jump and landing mechanics
    • Herman and Wallace: for pelvic health, many figure skaters (no matter their age) experience urinary incontinence and pelvic pain
    • Crossfit Level 1- for higher level strength training techniques
    • Strength and Conditioning Specialist
  • I have also spent time researching hypermobile athletes, their pain points and needs

10.) What should people expect to find on your instagram?

  • Sport performance science applied to figure skating to help coaches create resilient and high performing athletes

11.) What are some other instagram accounts you recommend related to this field?

  • @movementismedicine dance IG but great ideas that apply to figure skating
  • @nowbodywellness is dietician specializing in eating disorders in figure skating
  • @fortunata_barone_eft specializes in performance anxiety in figure skating
  • @bendy_bodies is a podcast about performing arts athletes
  • @thebroadwaypt works with performers

That wraps up this month’s “What the Health” interview with the awesome @dr.kayla.dpt figure skating coach! I hope this gives you more insight into this niche! Reach out if there is a PT niche/specialty you want to learn more about!

For Students Uncategorized What the Health

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