Wrist Guards and Broken Bones. What’s the deal?

An ICP1 instructor (who wishes to remain anonymous) recently wrote to me with this question.

Q: Sadly, I’m writing to inform you that two 5 year old girls I know both broke their arms (Ulna and Radius) at the upper end of the wrist guards (in separate falls 9 months apart). One girl fell ‘backwards’ when standing still after losing her balance due to her friend passing by quickly and surprising her. The other girl fell ‘forwards’ when she was skating and went on to some rough surface. Knowing this, do you still suggest kids wear protection?

A: I’m sorry to hear this. Bad falls are never good. Poor girls. I hope they have made a speedy recovery.

Yes, I suggest, recommend and insist for classes that both children and adults wear protective gear (wrist guards, knee pads and helmet).

Protective Gear (if a skater has been taught how to use it properly) actually encourages forward falls by a skater reaching the arms out in front of them during a moment of instability, especially if this is practiced on grass first. But protective gear does not automatically produce forwards falls. Only reaching forwards with the arms and bending the knees over the toes  achieves that.

In the 90s this issue went to court in the USA with skaters suing wrist guard manufacturers because they broke their wrist or arm. No skater ever won and the verdict was the same each time;

Wrist guards are designed to stop you getting gravel in your hands when you fall forwards into hands and knees. No piece of plastic attached to a joint can prevent a fracture if the contact is heavy and at the wrong angle. If a backwards or sideways fall happens and the arm goes back with the full force and weight of the person on top of it, what happens is the force can be pushed to the upper edge of the wrist guard. But falling backwards or sideways is a “wrong” fall and therefore the fault of the skater, not the protective gear (according to the courts at that time). This is why learning to fall correctly on grass is should be an essential step for every new skater, whether on inline or roller skates.

While skating everyone should have their weight on the front half of their skate so backward falls only happen when weight shifts backward (by straightening knees up or moving hips/butt back). This is incorrect skating technique and produces a “wrong fall”. We encourage skaters to learn how to skate properly in order to reduce falling to an absolute minimum. If falls do happen then better technique will more likely produce forwards falls/pad slides and not bad backward falls.

The ICP (www.inlinecertificationprogram.org) was created in 1991 in response to these situations and the need for skaters to become educated in the use of protective gear and correct technique to promote safe and fun skating.

To compare skiing and skating, most Beginner skiers take a lesson when they start. A much smaller % of Beginner skaters take a lesson and this is the primary cause of falls, accidents and injuries. Ignorance of how to use protective gear, and how to master the basics of skating and stopping are also to blame.


I tell my all my Beginner students when we are on the grass and practicing falling before their first rolling;

Wrist guards are not designed to stop you breaking your wrist if you fall backwards. They are to stop you getting gravel rash in your hand when you fall properly forwards.”

I say it to every beginner. I show and explain to them the correct knee bend while on wheels (knees bending forwards over the toes with ankle flexion) and then I tell them “Don’t come up in your knees for the duration of this class”. If they do and they fall they are usually the first ones to say
“I did exactly what you told me not to do”.

I want my students to understand that they are responsible for whether they straighten their knees or move their butt backwards…. or not. It’s not luck or fate.  It’s them doing it by accident or rather unconsciously. But anyone can learn to be super conscious of this. That’s learning to skate!

Apart from pure technique problems causing falls, there are other hazards to beware of. Skaters can hit rough surface and their skates can literally stop, so flinging them forwards with great force (this was the cause of the first girl’s fall). Beginners should avoid any rough surface and choose where to skate very carefully. Rough surface is less problematic for more advanced skaters who have the additional speed needed to roll over rough surfaces. Not knowing how to handle rough surface (increase speed, cadence, bend knees more, shorter strides) means the risk of falling is increased.

Skaters can also be involved with other people in collision accidents (pedestrians, cyclists, other skaters) or being surprised by someone whizzing close by (as was the case with the other girl mentioned).

Even standing still comes with its hazards if the knees are straight and you suddenly turn around or make a jerky movement. In fact static falls are often the worst on the wrists as there is no sliding to disperse the energy and standing falls are almost always accompanied by a backward hand/wrist placement.

After a bad fall or injury people need to return very slowly to skating as their confidence is shaken. I always recommend a few lessons at this time so that your body feels secure in its reintroduction to wheels. But if care is taken in this process, many skaters are often more careful and more conscious after a serious fall. In which case it had a positive longterm effect.

But some skaters may never return after a bad fall and that’s always very sad. That’s why I want to reduce that happening with the best teaching and instruction I can provide.

Interestingly I teach a lot of older skaters in their 50s, 60s and 70s and because they really don’t want to fall they are extremely conscientious of what they are doing and they are the most diligent students. They aren’t in a hurry for speed or loads of skills and are willing to take things slowly and progressively.

In contrast children, young people and many others are more impatient with their own learning and less conscious of their bodies and the subtleties that skating demands. Assessing risks and your own abilities (to skate and stop) are essential for every skater whatever their age if they want to consciously reduce the risks.

But the bottom line from me is YES to Protective Gear. I’ve seen a thousand falls NOT happen because a skater reached forwards with their arms accompanied by knee bend and ankle flexion and then the wobble stopped and the potential fall didn’t happen. But this reaction was taught, learned and practiced so that in the wobble moment it could be reproduced.

Please protect yourselves as much as you need but improve your technique and you’ll naturally fall less and less.

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