Before you step on the ice . . .

December 10, 1991

Before beginning any new sport, people over 35 and those with chronic health problems should check with their physicians. Although ice skating is a low-impact activity -- which means it is easier on your joints than running -- there are some hazards to be aware of.

Primary among them is the possibility of thin ice on ponds or lakes; it's safer to skate at supervised rinks.

But rink-skating isn't entirely risk-free either, warns Dr. Angela Smith, pediatric orthopedist and sports medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland.

"The biggest danger in overcrowded public sessions with young men who have had too many beers is getting knocked down and having someone else skate over your hand or arm," she says. "The figure skate blade can cut a tendon."

You could also fall on your outstretched hands and break a wrist, she says.

Dr. Lew Schon, orthopedic surgeon in the Foot and Ankle Center at Union Memorial Hospital, has seen some broken ankles in beginning skaters, too. "You need good instruction, from someone who knows how [to skate]," he says.

Also, you need skates that fit properly. Whether you're buying or renting skates, Dr. Schon says, be sure they're comfortable off the ice; they're not going to feel any better when you start to skate. And, he says, check the insides of the skates, by hand, to be sure there aren't any defects or irregularities that will irritate your feet.

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