Are injuries in roller derby more frequent than they used to be?

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I wanted to write this earlier, but it took me some time to calm down and climb off my soapbox.

Deep breaths.

Guzfraba.

A few days ago I was digging around on one of those roller derby Facebook groups and I came across a discussion about broken legs. The original poster had just had a rash of broken legs sweep through their league (and a few neighboring leagues) and was wondering what might be causing it and whether or not anyone else was noticing it too.

  • Is it because of all the backwards blocking?
  • Are there more because of how derby is evolving?
  • What’s going on?!?

Answers came in droves; from people that, I assume, aren’t doctors or physical therapists or insurance agents or otherwise intimately knowledgable in the area of athletic injuries. Answers ranging from “take a calcium supplement” through to “they’re mostly just freak accidents“.

I’m not going to jump on my soapbox about getting medical advice from a Facebook forum (that’s for another time), but I did want to talk about this issue of broken legs.

A couple of months ago, I experienced a similar spike in broken legs in my own league. The article I wrote about it was about how injuries are often MORE common when you’re coming back from one, but I think it’s time to address the entire issue.

Are there more broken legs in roller derby now than there used to be?

I wish I actually had the data to answer that question, but I doubt it even exists. There may be some claims through WFTDA, but not everyone plays that rules set. And even if they did, I’m skeptical that everyone that gets injured files a claim.

Here’s what I do know:

  • Roller derby IS getting more aggressive and requiring greater athletic prowess than ever before.

Inherent in this is the oft-missed truth that, if you play roller derby, you are an athlete. And if you want to be good at roller derby, you have to train like an athlete.

Training like an athlete is difficult to manage with the kind of help (little-to-none) and the kind of knowledge (little-to-none) available to the common derby skater. Most skaters don’t even search this knowledge out or use GOOD, SOLID resources because they miss the first step: they don’t consider themselves to be true athletes.

  • The majority of skaters are amateurs.

Not in the “you’ll never be any good sense”, but in the “you don’t get paid to do this” sense. Which means that you’re managing your life along with your athletic training.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it does mean you have to be intentional about it. Half-assed cross training a couple of times a week every once in a while, coupled with an off-kilter eating schedule and sleep deprivation 2 to 3 nights a week isn’t ideal.

  • The sport is still evolving and relies on other sports (and other organizations) to exist.

The training that exists for roller derby is largely drawn from other roller and skate sports. Until a few years ago, cross training for roller derby skaters wasn’t even something that was talked about or seen as a big deal.

We’re still playing around with how to run practices, whether scrimmaging is a good idea or not, and how to support our training on the back end. AND because of derby’s reliance on rink schedules and amateur skaters, we also are forced to practice late at night after entire days full of work and living.

  • Skaters aren’t taking responsibility for themselves.

Did I lose you? Hear me out…

Upwards of 30% of the broken legs that were discussed in that forum board were labeled as “freak accidents“. Isn’t the definition of a freak accident that it doesn’t happen easily or frequently?

Yes, freak accidents happen. But isn’t it more likely that we, as skaters, are ignoring the warning signs of impending doom? The lack of sleep, the need to push through every thing, the messed up daily schedules, the FULL DAY before a FULL PRACTICE.

The exact moment of the break might seem like a freak accident, but it’s a freak accident that’s been building over time. And it was a slow build that no one was paying attention to.

I get it.

I’ve broken my leg.

In fact, I’ve been injured a ridiculous number of times and I will tell you that ALL OF THEM could have been avoided if I had trained like an athlete and taken responsibility for myself; taken care of myself.

I take that back, I probably couldn’t have avoided the 9-month injury that way. But definitely the rest.

The conversation in the forum was interesting; all about the external things that might be causing these broken bones. Yes, the athleticism increases the likelihood a bit, but there are other equally athletic sports that don’t have to ask this question. Yes, there’s a lot of backwards blocking and transitions. Yes, women are more prone to osteoporosis, but usually much later than their 20s and 30s.

But what if the majority of these issues aren’t external?

  1. Do you get enough sleep?
  2. Do you hydrate appropriately?
  3. Do you eat right?
  4. Do you train sport specifically?
  5. Do you take rest and recovery days when you need to?
  6. Do you stop during a practice if something feels off and take some time?

Training like an athlete and preventing injuries includes all of those things.


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IronOctopusFitness

About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

4 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    I agree with the list of 6 things that skaters need to do to ensure they dont injure themselves. I broke my tibia at derby practice in May and I can honestly say that I was neglecting my body and all the signs that I needed to rest. Instead, I pushed through and ended up being laid up now for over 8 weeks. Now, in hindsight I can say this, but had I not broken my leg, I may not have been able to reflect and realize this. I really feel that my body was telling me to slow down and take a break, but I wasn’t listening. Derby peeps, please listen to your body and train to prevent injury.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I have a love/hate relationship with hindsight! I’m glad it allowed you to figure things out, but it would have been nice to have foresight instead, right? The same thing is true for me. After so many injuries, I had to learn to listen or break myself forever. Thanks for sharing!

  • Deanna "Final" Straw says:

    I broke my ankle almost 8 wks ago and am on the up and up. Needless to say I have had a lot of time to think about what happened. Here are some of my thoughts, if needed/wanted.

    While talking with my PT about how I broke, I got an anatomy and physiology lesson that blew my mind and actually made me angry. We’re taught to do track cuts only using from our ankles to our knees. Small, sharp movements and using our edges. We talk about not using our hips to help get those cuts. But our knees can’t function as hips and that then puts pressure on our ankles, and snap.

    I can tell you that I had just put new wheels on my skates, and they were the wrong wheels for me. Freak accident, right? Wrong. I had started skating for 30 mins and knew they were bad, but I didn’t want to gear down. To change my wheels. I remember thinking “good skaters adapt” and I would use them this once, and not again. 45 min later, cutting the track, doing transitions and wheels that were wrong for me, and snap.

    So I’m not saying I have answers. You raised a lot of good points in which I agree. When I was coaching, and I a lot of fatigue I would call practice early. But I would catch some heat because we needed more practice. But fatigue leads to injuries.

    I think this all falls under not taking good care of ourselves. My wheels weren’t right, I didn’t change them. Cutting the track, less with the hips. Fatigue, what’s wrong with 5 more min?

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Thanks for sharing! I think this brings up a big issue of sweeping problems injuries under the rug by just assuming it was “bad timing” or a “freak accident”. When really, if you go back and look at all the potential factors in an injury, there are several things that could have been done to help prevent it. You can’t prevent all injuries — it is a full contact sport — but I hope that when skaters get injured they really analyze the event and their training and don’t just label it an “accident”.

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