Take a knee

Two weekends ago I played in a most amazing roller derby tournament, Flat Track Fever. I skated in Calgary’s Olympic Oval, which was amazing and also got to watch some amazing skill in women’s, men’s, co-ed and junior bouts.

The Wednesday prior to the tourney, I got tangled and took and bad spill at practice. I went down on my butt with legs forward and my knees bent out, essentially making a W with my lower body when I fell. I found out later that the impact of the inside of my knees hitting the floor in that way, I sprained my LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament) on my left leg, which is the ligament on the outside of the knee.

I sprained the Lateral Collateral Ligament

Thinking I could push through and fear of letting my team down, I went to the tournament and played in 2 games. I had fun but was always aware of the throbbing in my knee.

Fast forward to the week following; more throbbing, swelling and feeling that my knee was filling with fluid prompted me to visit a physiotherapist who diagnosed me with a ‘Grade 2’ sprain and now I’m off skates and have regular visits to therapists to try and fix me.

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my initial injury and I’m still limping, I still have to ice it and simple tasks like getting in and out of a car make me groan like I’m 70. I’m terribly frustrated. I can’t imagine what skaters who have worse injuries than myself, like full tears or broken bones, have to go through.

Injury prevention is on my mind.

I found this great article – 6 Ways to Ruin Your Knees – where they talk to derby girl Iron Maiven who tore her ACL.

But thinking a little further beyond published articles about cross-training, stretching, resting, etc., I started to recall lower-body injuries that happened within my league or that I witnessed. A common theme started to surface.

Most of them happened when the skater fell on her butt.

In fresh meat, you’re taught the importance of keeping your balance forward and taking a knee(s) when you fall. You often learn that lesson quickly after the first sting of a tailbone bash. Also coaches are quick to remind new skaters to fall correctly if they witness a flailing fall to the posterior.

But after the fresh meat phase, basic reminders like ‘fall to your knees’ often don’t get spoken to the veteran skaters. Warmups involving single or double knee falls are often looked at as trite distractions until it’s time for drills and scrimmaging.

Dare I say veteran skaters become complacent to the importance of knee falls? I know I did.

Track action happens so fast that a fall to the butt is sometimes unavoidable. Hell, I’ve spontaneously fallen to my ass while at a stand still.

However it begs the question, after fresh meat training, are we doing enough to continue to make sure knee falls are instinctual?

If I ever get back on skates (and I realize I’m being dramatic but I’m super cranky that I’m not feeling any improvement in my knee today so bear with me) I plan on filling my free-skate time with shifting weight to my heels and lurching forward to avoid a potential ass-fall.

Bionic awesomeness!

I’d love to hear what you think… are you complacent with how you fall during a game? Do you think about it? When you fall improperly, do you take steps to improve so it doesn’t happen again or do you chalk it up to a one-time event under specific circumstances?

PS: Since writing this post I’ve had another visit with my physiotherapist. He took pity on me and fitted me with this sexy new leg brace which makes walking much more comfortable even though it looks massively hindering. I really want to make 6 Million Dollar Man sound affects when I walk now.



15 thoughts on “Take a knee

  1. So sorry to hear about your injury. I hope you heal fast and that it hurts less every day. Thank you for the perspective, though, I am always falling on my booty.

  2. hi i am really sorry to hear you have hurt yourself. it sounds a lot like the injury i sustained to my knee. the first time i wore my new knee pads they were so slippery in comparisson to the ones i was used to too my knee slipped out and i heard something pop. i didn’t go to the dr for weeks as i thought it wasn’t that bad but when i finally did i immediately got sent to a physiotherapist. i was also able to skate through all this as it was a rather sporadic pain. the physio said he thought i had a small tear in the ligament. he was brilliant and used ultra sound therapy on it and then gave me some super simple exercises to do. they worked like a charm and i now have no pain at all in that knee. so don’t loose hope phsyio can be amazing. fingers crossed you will be skating again soon. Hilda xx

    • Thanks so much! Physio is going really well and I’m seen tons of improvement since getting the knee brace. I’ve been cleared to start exercising (not yet skating thou) next week to strengthen those muscles back up! Fingers crossed!!!!

  3. I have strained and torn my MCL In both knees now. It’s not due to falling its due to improper skating form. When I squat my knees tilt to the inside, making it really easy for a subluxation of the knee cap. I agree that falling properly is imprortant, but so is form. CVRG says this constantly: FFI Fall Forward Idiot and toes, knees, tits! ( they all line up) Sorry about your knee injury, start taking osteo-biflex, it’s a vitamin and it makes healing faster and less painful, like that pressure when you bend or stand.

  4. Some falls will result in injury, regardless. That is the risk that we take doing Derby.

    However, there are a lot of injuries that happen because of a lack of muscle memory for how to minimize the danger of a fall.

    Related to proper falling & proper form … is to learn to fight the instinct to try too hard to stay upright.

    One of the more critical things that a new skater learns is “falling techniques”. The frequently unspoken skill that they are also learning is the knowledge that a fall won’t kill you (usually). That comfort with falling is similar to why drunks survive car wrecks …

    If you are afraid of falling, you will be tensed up when you hit the ground, amplifying your potential for injury. You compound the error when you fight the fall, adding strange twistings & unnatural angles to the mix. This is a critical reason why people continue to practice falling.

    For many years, when I “fell”, I actually “rolled” … using the momentum of the fall to continue on & get back up instead of ever fighting the fall. I’m older now, & no longer bounce. I am one of those (grumpy) veteran skaters who usually refuses to continue to throw myself on the ground to practice fallng … my knees have survived almost 10 years of derby (with no major injury) & I intend to keep it that way by minimizing the impact to them. That being said, I pick the “falling” drills that I participate in with care … I PERSONALLY balance the health of my knees, a (hopefully relatively) accurate assessment of my current skills, & what the drill is set up to accomplish. (For example, if the purpose is the “getting back up” part, I will fall in a slow/controlled fashion to practice the “getting up”. If it is for leg strength (ie knee taps), I simply don’t go all the way to the ground to minimize impact on my knees.) I also throw in how much scrimmaging/etc we are doing into the mix. If we are doing a lot of drills where the falling is happening naturally, I count that toward keeping that skill fresh.

    One of the things to keep in mind when dealing with skaters is that you are dealing with (in theory) “adults”. There is something called “Adult Learning Theory” … unlike younger people, we don’t accept things at face value & assume that we are being taught things for a reason. Adults need to know the “why” … this is ESPECIALLY true if you are trying to teach something that they feel that they already know. New skaters are more “childlike” in this respect than the veteran skaters … so you DO have to approach them with this in mind. Veterans also need to know that you respect their status as veterans, & their individual skills.

    Doing “return to basics” practices & drills benefit all skaters … even the ones that think that they don’t need them. The trick is in convincing them to at least “go along”. As we get more comfortable on skates, our form tends to slacken. (If you doubt this, watch how many veteran skaters tend to skate in a relatively upright position — especially when not actively engaging another skater.)

    “Return to basics” drills will focus on form & muscle memory. Make them an opportunity to “fine tune” form … & engage veteran skaters to actively monitor & help the newer ones. By putting them in a mentoring role, they are forced to pay more attention to THEIR form to ensure that they are passing the skill along correctly. Additionally, many veteran skaters will be more responsive to being granted the respect of simply being in that veteran status. (There is an old adage that if you want to learn something … teach it! When a student asks questions, you have to think about what you do more than you typically would … & often learn something in the process.)

    Make “return to basics” drills a challange as well. Find a way to “step up” the skill. If you are practicing a form drill, throw out “if this is too easy for you … drop it an inch or two”, or “now try doing that without hands on your thighs”, or “now … double/half time!” (Note — I ALWAYS preach form over speed. If you get the form, the speed will come … but speed with bad form does not accomplish the goal. Sometimes, slowing the drill DOWN will be harder than speeding it up. If you are going to encourage speed, ensure that they have the form down first.)

    If possible, combine a “return to basics” drill with another drill that is either a new skill, or at least something distracting. Take a hitting drill … one where people ARE likey to get knocked down. Make it very clear that you are doing a “return to basics” drill to focus on proper form & muscle memory (in this case, falling). Ideally, have the trainers/leaders look for THAT skill more than whatever the other one is … & to not get distracted by the “more fun” aspect of the drill. Letting the skaters know that they are being watched for this (& that they are being treated as if they have brains) opens them up to feedback later.

    Another way to “combine” a “return to basics” drill with other skills, is to set up a “building block” type drill. Spend the first few minutes going over that basic skill. Be sure to let the skaters know that this IS a building block setup & that you will be adding to this shortly. Letting them know that this will be a component of something else tends to add motivation to get that first part right. Additionally, it sets in the mind/body the importance of the skill & adds that “why” factors in all the seconday ways that will encourage the skill to stick.

    Be aware of time/boredom factors. Yes, time is what is needed for muscle memory to set it, but as skaters get bored, they lose form & aren’t getting the benefit of the drill anyway — & that’s assuming that they don’t completely hijack the drill. Either keep the “return to basics” drills short (but do them frequently), or find a way to keep them fresh, such as the combining methods mentioned above.

    This turned into quite the dissertation … for that I apologize.

    I have been skating for awhile & work with our Rec league as a trainer. “Return to basics” drill are very important to me — & I see them all too often being blown off when taken to the full league. I always enjoy the return to basics drills … if it is a skill that I have down, I can turn the mind off … or focus on helping another skater. If I do NOT have that skill down … it is a great place to work on it where it is less embarrassing to admit that I don’t have it nailed down … & frequently I am encouraged by seeing other skaters who ALSO don’t have that skill nailed. … that is, as long as I don’t feel like the drill is a “here, go keep yourselves busy while the rest of us practice something important” as happens occasionally if we are focusing on one particular team for some reason (like they are prepping for a travel game). I get that impression … you can damn well bet I’m that grumpy vet skater who stirs up dissent & refuses to do the drill properly! *weg*

    I hope that some of this helped.

    • It helps so much!!! Thank you so much for your well-written dissertation! Great advice and I appreciate hearing from you! I love your ideas on integrating basic skills as a way for the veterans to mentor fresh meat, while still getting them to practice! Thanks so much for commenting!

      • I’m glad I could help! What is knowledge for if not to pass it along?

        PS … I almost forgot an intergral part of all of this …

        Good gear, & learning to trust it. (In addition to being able to trust yourself as you fall … )

        Personally — I put more care & $$ into my kneepads & wristguards than I do into my skates. I don’t know what I’d do w/o Wild Bill! My kneepads might run me close to $200 alone … but it is still cheaper than a doc’s bill!

        My personal choice — ProDesigned (that is as much a testament to Bill himself as to the product). I know that a lot of people swear by the 187’s.

        Whatever product you choose — A) spend the money on the kneepads & B) learn to trust them & C) go with actual functionality over fashion. Trusting your protective gear will make it easier to believe that you can pitch FORWARD in a fall instead of backward. (Trust me … you will LEARN to cross-over in those huge-ass pads instead of the itty bitty decorative knee caps. It just takes a little extra time to learn to do so.)

        As a side note to that … once you DO learn that … don’t EVER skate w/o kneepads/wristguards! lol You will forget that they aren’t there … & yes, that IS experience talking. I will skip helmet, mouthguard, elbowpads … but NEVER my kneepads or wristguards. I am too well trained that those are my brakes.

  5. Thanks for writing this. Coincidentally, I sprained my medial collateral ligament (the inside one) on the 15th of April. This happened to fall exactly one week before the assessments for Fresh Meat, a group to which I belonged. Now I can’t skate for six weeks and in fact have trouble even walking. I know what you mean about the mixture of frustration over being injured and gratitude that it is not worse. Anyways, I had made roller derby my God and it still is I guess, but the Lord is not talking to me with quite as much fervor. And while I plan on becoming involved with NSO, I really love to skate and am super bummed about not being able to.

    • Sorry to hear about your injury! The MCL is bigger than the LCL so I can imagine the pain you’re in. To distract me, I’ve thrown myself in to doing more board work than I normally take on, so we’re following down the same path right now! And don’t worry, when the next fresh meat assessments come around, you’ll be healed and ready to kick butt!

  6. omg this same thing happened to me about two weeks ago. i’m on pain meds and moving with the slow step. i got me a fancy leg brace too. as i’m reading your post i’m noticing a trend in people hurting themselves this month. boy the derby pain beast is attacking everyone. i was suppose to train to be in my teams first bout next week. guess i will just have to wait till next season to get my first time in. by that time i’ll be a pro on my skates. but its not so bad being fresh meat for now. i hope to get back on my skates soon. 6 weeks seems like such a long time to be without my skates. i hope you feel better soon. i will keep posted to your blog to see how you are doing.

  7. Brawg. Guess who just sprained her MCL last night? THIS girl. falling the exact same way you did. Call it a failed double knee slide, because I really was trying to fall on my knees. Like you, I’m madly doing research on how to best heal and get myself back in!

  8. ooh! i was just looking for other derby blogs, and i found this one. pretty cool.

    i tore my acl, mcl, lcl, and meniscus last year. it was the suck. i missed the entire season. my body is not really inclined to cooperate on a mechanical level, though i try my best to be proactive in the situation!

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