NOTA BENE: This post is my opinion. There are people who disagree with my conclusions...NOTE: I've never been hurt wearing the guards I skate in, so personally, I'm okay with my analysis.
Some of you may have heard that wrist guards don't protect you from injury. Or you may have read this article. I'm about to pooh-pooh someone's research with cadavers, so take a look at the description in the article of the force used: "bone crushing force". And look at the results "The guarded forearms snapped under a force almost identical to the force needed to break the unguarded forearms." I'm going to put on my system engineer's hat and go "pooh-pooh". Research like this draws general conclusions about all sports and all situations from a simple experiment. Extrapolation can lead to simplified conclusions that are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Here's the thing, a well designed wrist guard isn't intended to keep your forearm from breaking. A wrist guard is designed to keep your wrist from breaking. Secondly, in skating we seldom encounter 'bone-crushing force'. Wrist guards are designed for people skating on concrete, not ice; so 'bone crushing' rarely applies to skaters. Finally, in and this is the most important thing, in the extremely unlikely case that you break a long bone (a forearm or a leg bone), they heal much faster, and have fewer complications in healing than a broken joint.
Some cases to illustrate this point. I broke my ankle in June of 2009. It was a minor fracture of a single small bone in the ankle. I did not get back on the ice for six months and did not lose pain in the joint for a year and a half. A woman in my group class broke a leg in a freak skating accident* and she was skating again in three months. A friend of mine broke her wrist in a roller skating accident. She tripped, stuck out her hands to break her fall and crushed one wrist. It required two surgeries to fix and a year to heal. Don't you think she would have rather had a simple broken arm that would be healed in a couple of months?
So, I'm a big supporter of wrist guards. But only certain kinds of wrist guards. The ones I recommend to my friends are those that have a metal splint that bends away from the wrist. I've used Pro-Tech and Triple 8 guards. but there are others on the market. I make sure I get the guards where the splint does not touch the wrist. When you fall with this kind of guard, the force enters the metal splint, travels around the wrist, and the force transfers to the tough hard to break (easy to heal) forearm. Here's a picture that shows the splint.
|The guard on the right shows the splint|
that curves around the wrist
I've never tried any of the padded wrist guards that don't have a splint. From a common sense point of view, I can't see how they would be of any use, except to someone who is trying to keep their palms from getting skinned. I've also never used wrist guards designed for snowboarding as they are bulky and appear to be designed more for protection against brush and ice. Finally, there are guards that have a splint, but it lies along the wrist rather than arching away from it. I'm suspicious of these as from a physics point of view, they don't stop the force from going through the wrist. Maybe if I was younger and a better skater, I'd find these other options suitable, but right now, I don't use them.
If a friend were to come to me and say, "I'm a beginning adult skater, what should I wear for protection? What's the most important thing?" I'd say "Get wrist guards with the curved splint, first and foremost. You're going to fall on your hands, protect that wrist joint."
*She was doing warm up swizzles(!), caught one blade in a rut and 'fell funny' on one leg, snapping both bones. (I said it was a freak accident). I saw her skating last week for the first time, 3 months after the fall.