Lace bite doesn’t care whether you’re a professional or recreational hockey player. You can be a figure skater for that matter. It can affect anyone who laces up a pair of skates.
Clinically termed an aggravation of the extensor hallucis longus tendon (i.e., the tendon that attaches the muscle running down your lower leg to your big toe), lace bite causes a sharp painful sensation throughout the foot. It is particularly common with new skates, particularly if they are stiff or rigid. Sufferers can find the injury so painful that they cannot imagine hitting the rink for practice—and they might even contemplate tossing out their brand new expensive skates.
Below are a few ways to prevent lace bite. Take note of them before you drop $800 on a new pair of skates, which might make the problem worse. (Goalies: see How to Purchase and Maintain Your Hockey Goalie Skates.)
Bake Your Skates
It’s impossible to make skates that fit perfectly, so many ice hockey skates are manufactured with heat responsive thermo-formable foam. When heated, the foam become pliable enough to be reshaped for a customized fit. Most hockey pro shops have a skate oven, so you can bake your skates upon purchase.
Use a Bunga Pad
This is a gel pad that provides a protective barrier between your skin and the tongue of the skate. Slide the pad underneath your sock liner to make sure it doesn’t shift. If bunga pads fail, try foam inserts cut to size and glue them to the tongue. (See also Avoid Common Foot Ailments.)
Change Your Laces
Thin laces have a tendency to cut into the foot, causing the soreness and inflammation associated with lace bite. This form of prevention is easy: switch to thicker laces, which have more surface area and exert less tension in the tongue region. You may also want to stop using wax on your laces, since it makes tight laces even tighter. (See Lace Up to Avoid Foot Injuries.)
If All Else Fails, Rest
Although it’s not a fun option, taking some time off the ice will prevent further inflammation and allow the affected tendon to heal before you develop synovitis, a serious condition characterized by swelling of the synovial ankle joint. If not treated properly, synovitis can require use of a walking cast. Simply icing the tendon will cause the inflammation to subside. Consult your physician to see whether he/she will prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication. Rest will eventually solve the problem, but a permanent solution may require new skates, or tongues, that alleviate the pressure on the EHL tendon. (Check out the Value of Rest and Recovery to Sports Injury Prevention and Treatment.)