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What do hockey players, figure skaters, and soccer players all have in common? They all commonly experience lace bite — a sharp pain down the front of the lower leg to the toes where the shoelaces are tied.

Most athletes who wear laced shoes on the playing field or ice have experienced this painful and irritating occurrence.

Whether you call it a lace, tongue, or skate bite, keep reading to find out why this happens and how you can prevent and treat it.

Lace bite is the result of irritation on the front part of the ankle due to pressure from shoelaces and a shoe or skate’s tongue. The condition is usually a progressive one — the more you wear the shoes or skates, the more intense the pain or discomfort grows.

Lace bite symptoms include:

  • pain when touching the front part of the ankle
  • redness
  • swelling

A lace bite may feel like you have a bruise on the front of your ankle, yet you can’t see one.

This condition is common in anyone who wears shoes, skates, or boots that lace higher up on the ankle. Figure skaters, hockey players, or those who wear cleats are more likely to experience lace bite.

Lace bite is the result of too much pressure from the tongue of your skates against your foot and ankle. The pressure may be due to the following circumstances:

  • practicing full steam ahead when you haven’t worn your skates in a while
  • wearing a new pair of skates that haven’t been broken in
  • wearing a pair of inexpensive or old skates that may have an overly flexible or nonsupportive structure
  • tying your laces too tightly

Each of these factors — and sometimes a combination of them — can place excessive pressure on the tendons in your ankle. The results can be inflammation and irritation that leads to lace bite.

Since lace bite is the result of progressive irritation to the tendons and other surrounding structures in the foot, your goals for treatment are to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Ways to accomplish this include:

  • Resting. Resting your legs and feet between practices can reduce the constant pressure that leads to lace bite. If you practice nearly every day, you may have to sit out once or twice to give your body time to heal.
  • Icing your ankles. Applying cloth-covered ice packs to your ankles for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can help soothe irritation and reduce pain. You can repeat this periodically throughout your day.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help to reduce irritation.

Once your lace bite is feeling better, taking some preventive steps can help you reduce the likelihood symptoms will return.

Knowing the potential causes of lace bite can help you engage in preventive methods to keep it from happening again. Some of the ways you can try to prevent lace bite include:

  • Lacing your skates a different way. Some people have relieved their lace bite by first lacing their skates from the outside of the eyelets, then inside. This outside-in technique can help reduce excessive pressure from the shoe’s tongue.
  • Tying your skates or shoes slightly less tightly. You want them to be protective and stay on, but not so tight they lead to lace bite. This may take some trial and error, but it can help. Once you’ve found the ideal way to tie them, take a permanent marker and mark on the lace where the right tightness is so you can identify it more easily with each practice.
  • Purchasing protective wear. Some people will buy ankle sleeves or pads that act as a protective barrier between the foot and ankle and the skate. Two examples are the ZenToes Padded Skate Socks and the Absolute Athletics Bunga Pad, which you can shop for online.
  • Breaking in new shoes or skates gradually. This may mean wearing them for a portion of your practice, then switching back to old footwear until you’ve had time to fully break in the new ones.
  • Purchasing as high-quality, supportive skates or shoes as you’re able. If your current pair of skates have a very floppy tongue, they likely won’t provide enough support to help you on the ice or playing field.

Trying these steps can ideally take away some of the ouch that comes from wearing laces.

Athletes who wear cleats and skates are more vulnerable to ankle sprains and pressure injuries, like lace bite.

If you’ve tried treatments and preventive steps, yet haven’t experienced relief from your lace bite, talk to a primary care doctor, sports medicine doctor, or athletic trainer. They may be able to suggest additional treatments based on your overall health and foot structure.

While lace bite is more of a chronic problem than a severe injury, people who wear cleats and skates are at greater risk for high ankle sprains. Wearing the right equipment, the right way, may help to prevent this injury from occurring.

Lace bite is an irritating and painful occurrence that plagues many athletes who wear laced shoes. Excessive pressure from the shoe’s tongue and laces can irritate the tendons on the front of the ankle.

If the irritation becomes more the norm than the occasional occurrence, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your symptoms.