Friday, November 25, 2011

Wrist Guards

This is the second in my posts on skating protection. Today I want to talk about wrist guards.

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

The wrist guards I feel comfortable with are ones designed for street skating (skateboarding and inline skating). When I took falls with these on I never had any problems at all. They were super. When I skate alone, I always wear these. When I'm skating with Dance Coach, I'm now comfortable not wearing them as my skills have improved.  

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.


  1. I fractured my wrist ice-skating as a teenager. It took AGES to heal--and that was back when I was young. I wear wrist-guards all the time now for skating. I know for sure that they have saved me at least two serious wrist injuries in the last year, as both were falls so hard that my head hurt, even though I didn't hit my head on the ice. I NEVER skate without them, though I suppose I will remove them for a test or competition or performance-type thing once I get to that point.

  2. I only skate without them when I'm doing dance with coach. When I saw my friend's broken wrist (one of the bones of her hand was jammed up into her arm) I made sure they're in my bag before I go skate.

  3. I use these ones after breaking my wrist dong mohawks
    They allow me reasonable wrist movement whle also protecting my wrist so far. They are rather bulky and come up my forearn quite far though... :(

  4. I was doing bunny hops once without wrist guards, and landed forward on my palms. Even if they don't always protect against absolute breaks, wrist guards with the palm metal (not sure what to call that) would have prevented the two enormous goose eggs that swelled up where I hit. That stunk pretty bad, too.

  5. I'm getting back to skating after about 30 years off (at age 40) and went to the rink yesterday to dip my pinkie toe in the water. After falling snowboarding 2 years ago and bruising a bone, you bet I wore wrist guards! That ice is HARD.

    - Lex

  6. I had the classic wrist injury, a fall backwards onto both hands...and broke a wrist and sprained the other. Another woman at my rink did the same thing two years earlier. My point is that I had a world class wrist surgeon and he was able to let me know that I had more than enough force to break the wrist. It was the force of impact pure and simple. BTW, I just got Protec and found that they have a dual plate, top and bottom. Some pages warn the dual plate can cause injury.

  7. Hello, could you tell me if it would be ok to wear the type of wrist guard you are recommending over a shirt sleeve?