Identify and Treat Lace Bite Injuries

Inline skater lacing up.
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Does it feel like your inline skate laces are cutting into your skin? Even if your skates appear to be a perfect fit, there is always a chance that you may experience this affliction, which is known as lace bite. Sometimes called skate bite, lace bite is a severe irritation on a skater's feet that is caused when the pressure of tightened laces causes swelling, a rash, blisters, or other irritation on the feet. Lace bite is accompanied by pain on the Extensor hallucis tendon—along the top of the foot and up the lower leg—and can be found among pro, competitive or recreational skaters in any skating discipline. 

Causes of Lace Bite

Lace bite commonly occurs when a skater's inline, figure, or hockey skates are too stiff, not broken in yet, old and inflexible, or laced up too tightly. There are many causes of lace bite, but the lacing is implicated in the name because it is most commonly caused by tight laces. Other causes include:

  • Skates not deep enough for the shape of the feet
  • Skated that are the wrong size
  • Cheap skates that have thin tongues and no padding

Irritation or injuries can occur on both feet but may also only affect one foot, since feet are not always perfectly identical. You will be able to recognize a boot problem if your skates appear to be laced up properly but they bulge out in the upper middle and then back to normal at the top. This issue—skate bite—happens for several reasons:

  • Feet may be slightly different sizes
  • A past injury has created sensitive areas on the foot
  • Flaws in the boot itself
  • Boots are not the right model for a skater's needs

Lace bite and skate bite have different causes, but most athletes are more concerned about the discomfort than the name of the injury. ​

Solutions and Prevention

In some cases, lace bite injuries can be resolved by loosening the upper boot skate laces just enough to take pressure off the middle area of the foot while keeping the lower laces tight enough to keep the heel securely seated. There are other things a skater can do to prevent this injury:

  • For figure or hockey skates, soften them up by baking them according to the manufacturer's instructions
  • Take your skates into a professional skate shop and have them bumped, stretched, relined, or padded to conform better to your foot
  • Allow time for your skates to break in—sometimes lace bite only lasts until the skates are broken in
  • Replace thin skate laces that may cut into the foot with thicker laces—inline hockey players may consider discontinuing the use of waxed laces that make laces even tighter
  • Trying a new skate lacing pattern when you put on your skates
  • Use bunga pads or other silicone products that help reduce the pressure and pain on the front of the ankle
  • Replace your tongues with double felt tongues, premium sponge tongues, or even lambs wool tongues for more padding

Allow Time to Heal

Consider taking a break from skating to prevent additional inflammation and allow the affected lace bite area to heal. Icing the tendon will help reduce inflammation and you can contact your primary care physician or sports medicine specialist to see whether a prescription strength anti-inflammatory is needed. If these solutions don't work, the long-term answer may include the purchase of new skates or tongues to relieve tendon pressure. Talk to your coach and skate shop professionals to help find solutions.

Please note this document has not been medically reviewed, and the information may not be medically accurate.