Ahhh, good ol’ lace bite.
Just when you thought your new skates couldn’t get any better, you start to feel this sharp pain running down the front part of your ankle.
If this pain is new to you, you’re probably already on the phone trying to get a refund for your now not-so-comfortable skates.
If you’ve felt this pain before, you know that lace bite is the culprit.
Lace bite—known also as tongue bite or skate bite—is a real pain in the @$$ for hockey players.
In this article, I’m stepping away from the usual hockey sense specific topic and I’m sharing a few tips & tricks on how I dealt with lace bite over my hockey career.
Having played 4 years in Major Junior and another 5 in the CIS, It’s safe to say I’ve seen my fair share of new skates (I tested 5 different pairs of skates in one season during my sophomore year in University).
It’s safe to say that me and lace bite, we don’t get along.
Here’s the ultimate guide on lace or tongue bite (i’ll use them interchangeably throughout the article) and how you can notice, prevent, and cure it before it gets painful enough to keep you off the ice (and yes, it can be that bad).
What is lace bite?
Lace bite, simply put, is a sharp pain or pressure that runs down the front of your lower leg down to your toes. It can happen to all athletes who require laced footwear for their sport, but even more so to those who must wear skates or cleats (hockey players, figure skaters, soccer players etc.)
That said, there are several reasons you might experience lace bite in hockey:
- Having been off the ice for a while and jumping right back into it
- Using a new pair of skates.
- Using an old/low-quality pair of skates
- Tying your skates too tightly
Lace bite usually occurs when you mix some of the above together…
If you’ve been off the ice for some time, you’ll want to ease back into it. Chances are your skates are dry and stiff, and the skate tongue is probably more rigid than usual.
Same goes for a new pair of skates—the tongues will be extremely rigid and not well broken-in, which means lace or skate bite can develop if you’re not careful.
And then with old or lower-quality skates, you might be dealing with a cheap or less flexible tongue which again means lace bite can thrive.
Tying your skates too tightly makes all of the above worse, so you’ll want to refrain from tying your skates too tight when you’re getting back on the ice for the first time in a while, or when you have new or even older skates.
So what’s the common denominator here? How does lace bite actually occur?
If you haven’t already figured it out, lace bite occurs due to the pressure of your skate tongue against your ankle.
Too much pressure from tight laces coupled with a stiff or inflexible skate tongue that hasn’t been broken in well enough can lead to painful lace bite, making it extremely unpleasant to skate, let alone play.
What really takes place when you get lace bite
According to Dr. Rob LaPrade, when your laces are too tight, the tongue part of the skate presses up against your ankle and, more importantly, puts pressure on your tendons in this area.
These tendons are what allow you to move your ankle in an upward motion, which happens over and over when skating. In other words, these tendons get a lot of work throughout an entire practice or game.
This is where the problem kicks in—this tendon motion against your stiff skate tongue and tight laces can cause some major inflammation, and can even result in tendonitis in rare cases.
Tendonitis or even just lightly inflammed tendons can mean severe pain every time you put your skates on.
At this point, it’s usually too late, and you’ll be stuck with the pain for quite some time.
I can tell you from experience, there’s nothing worse than wanting to play an amazing game but having every single stride you take feel like death (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it can be excruciating if it lingers on long enough).
Luckily, I’m going to teach you how to take notice of the early lace bite signs so that you can slow down its progression or prevent it altogether. Then, I’ll share a few products I picked up that allowed me to play through the pain when I otherwise might not have been able to.
How to notice lace bite before it’s too late
Learning how to notice the early signs of lace bite is your best line of defense.
Lace bite is essentially a kind of progressive pain, meaning it’ll get worse with time.
Early on, you’ll simply come off the ice with your ankle or ankles feeling uncomfortable. You might feel like you have a small bruise or sharp pain right on the upper part of your ankle.
It won’t be all that painful, but it’ll still be noticeable enough to raise concern. Your ankle won’t necessarily show any physical signs either, so you can’t rely on ‘looks‘ so to speak.
At this early stage, all you can do is monitor the pain to see if it improves or starts to become more painful.
The next time you have a practice or a game, pay attention to how it feels when you lace your skates up. Does it hurt more or less than last time? What about when you’re out on the ice skating?
If it no longer hurts, then you’re safe (at least this time around).
But if you feel it to be equally painful or more painful than your last time out on the ice, there’s a good chance you’re developing lace bite (see picture)!
You might start to notice significant redness, swelling, or even a lump like the one shown above. Any of these signs, along with increased pain, means it’s too late to turn back now—you have lace bite.
All you’re really able to do at this point is limit the damage. Here’s how you can make your new-found pain a little less painful:
How to treat lace bite
So now you’ve got lace bite and there’s no going back to better times. There’s only a handful of things you can do to treat lace bite and keep it under control so that you can at least continue skating.
This is the least favorite option of the bunch—still, taking time away from the game is a surefire way to help treat lace bite. Being that it’s caused by pressure from your skate tongues, time out of your skates can do wonders.
If you’re an amateur player and only play 1-2 times per week, this should work to your advantage. However, if you’re a more competitive player that skates every day, you’re going to have trouble taking time off. If it’s extremely bad, maybe it’s worth sitting out a practice or two.
I understand that time off isn’t an option for many, which is why these other tips might do the trick…
Ice, ice baby
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the only thing you can really do outside of taking NSAIDs to battle inflammation is to ice your ankles.
I used to play with a guy that had severe lace bite. Like, all-the-time lace bite.
I played with him for several years, and it followed him like the plague. He just couldn’t help it—he loved tying his skates super tight, and as we were part of the Bauer Hockey testing program, we often got new skates to try.
As a result, I think he had lace bite for most of his career.
Ice, along with a few other things I’ll mention soon, were his best friends when it came to numbing the pain.
He would even go as far as putting ice packs in his skates between periods to numb the pain. I kid you not.
Long story short, if you want to treat tongue bite, icing your ankles before, after, and even during your games is a good idea. The cold not only battles inflammation but also eases the pain, making it a little easier to go out and skate hard without cringing the entire period.
Skate tying technique
This one helped me out quite a bit. The first time I got lace bite, one of the veterans on my team at the time told me I had my skates laced up the wrong way.
I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to lace up your skates. What’s this guy talking about?
“Yeah, your skates are badly laced…that’s probably why you got lace bite. Try lacing them up from the outside in, instead of the inside out.”
What he meant was to pass the ends of the laces through the eyelets of the skates from the outside first, instead of through the inside.
I had nothing to lose, so I tried it out—it made a significant difference, and I never really got lace bite as bad as I did that first time ever again!
I suggest you try it out if you’re fighting tongue bite. Re-lace your skates while always passing the laces through the eyelets from the outside of the skate rather than the inside.
Why does it work? Because the laces simply follow the flow of your tongue better, which gets rid of a lot of pressure on your ankles. Below is an image from a forum thread I came across that shows why this lace techique is better for preventing tongue or lace bite:
You can read the full thread here.
That being said, these simple tips are oftentimes not enough to get rid of lace bite pain or cure it all together.
The best pads for curing and preventing lace bite
I’ve used many different strategies and products for eliminating lace bite pain over my career. Many of them didn’t work, but a few were more than worth the investment. The pads below are those I’ve personally tested out and used when my lace bite was at its worst, and I recommend them to anyone looking for a long term solution.
In my opinion, Bunga pads are by far your best option for dealing with lace bite pain. Bunga pads are essentially a thin, elastic sleeve with built-in gel pads that help to relieve pressure & friction on your ankle bone.
These pads were a life-saver for me over my career, as I like to skate barefoot (personal preference!). As you can imagine, lace bite can be pretty bad on bare skin—much worse than with socks.
This exact model was designed specifically for lace bite, and nothing else I’ve tried has been as effective in both preventing lace bite and taking away the pain .
I keep them in my hockey bag so I always have them with me. I use them all the time now, even when I don’t have lace bite—the extra cushion & protection lets me tie my skates tight without having to worry.
The A&R lace bite pad
The A&R lace bite pad would be your second best choice for fighting lace bite. This pad is a little different from the bunga pad in a sense that it goes outside your skate. It doesn’t act like a protective sock like the Bunga pad does.
Instead, you simply place it directly on top of the tongue before you lace up your skate—it acts as added cushion to stop the laces from biting into your ankles.
It’s not aesthetically pleasing as it covers the outside of your skate, but it does the job nonetheless.
It’s your second best choice for tongue bite, and I even went as far as using both the Bunga pad and the A&R pad once when the pain was really bad and it did wonders. Here’s where you can pick up the A&R pad for cheap.
Good ol’ fashion sponges
If you’re not ready to fork out a few dollars for one of the above solutions, then you can give making your own pads a try.
For starters, try cutting a small sponge so that it fits between your ankle and your skate tongue. Try that out and see how it works—it may be all you need if your lace bite isn’t too bad.
If a sponge doesn’t do the trick, you can try foam from your local craft store—it’s usually green or blue, and you can cut out pieces to place around the spot that’s most painful in order to relieve pressure.
Sometimes, cutting the foam in a circular shape and making a hole in the middle—what physiotherapists like to call a donut—is a good way to protect your ankle. Simply place the donut so that the hole in the middle is directly over the spot that hurts the most.
Those are your 3 best options in order of most effective to least effective when it comes to padding & protection.
No matter how hard you try, you’re going to get lace bite at least once during your career as a hockey player.
That said, you want to deal with it as best as possible so it doesn’t keep you off the ice, and also so that it doesn’t affect your performance.
You have a few simple tricks at your disposal that may help:
- Taking time off—essentially staying out of your skates
- Using ice as often as possible to reduce pain & swelling
- Tying your skates less tightly
- Re-lacing your skates from the outside as opposed to the inside
If that doesn’t work and you can spare a few bucks, then your best options, from most effective to least effective, are:
Unfortunately, lace bite is very real, and the sooner you notice it developing, the easier it is to take care of. Don’t let it linger on…it’ll just get worse and might take you off the ice for quite some time. Use the tips I gave you, and invest in some pads or make your own to keep this painful & annoying problem from ruining your season!
Best of luck.
How do you fight lace bite? Leave a comment below!