In a high velocity, contact sport such as ice hockey, injuries are bound to occur. NHL players can reach speeds of over 20 mph on the ice and a puck can be shot at over 100 mph. With players ranging in size, the amount of force created in a check or simply skating or shooting can cause injuries. Injuries range from sprained ligaments and strained muscles to contusions (bruises), broken bones and concussions. Though some of these injuries seem severe, many are minor and athletes return to the ice quickly or don’t miss time at all. According to USA Hockey, injury rates will increase as the players get older. For example, looking at injuries per 1000 game hours, a squirt will incur 0.6 injuries where at the high school level, that number increases to 9.3. Other statistics will also show an increase in injuries at a higher level of play. This means AAA players are at a higher risk than an A player.
Different research may show which injuries are more common than others, but the following is a list of the most common ones.
- Shoulder separation: This is a sprain of the ligaments of the joint made up of the acromion and clavicle or collarbone. It typically occurs when absorbing a force from an opponent or the boards towards the top or side of the shoulder
- Collarbone fracture: This occurs in a similar fashion to a shoulder separation where an athlete gets hit from the side compressing the body together shoulder to shoulder. In this case, the clavicle or collarbone breaks and is more common in younger athletes.
- Knee sprain: the most commonly sprained ligament is the medial collateral ligament or the one on the inside of the knee and can occur when getting hit or fallen on forcing the knee to collapse inward.
- Groin or Hip Flexor strain: strains occur when the muscle either gets over stretched such as catching an edge and the skate slips further away from the body or when strenuously using a muscle that may be fatigued and causing tears of the muscle fibers.
- Concussion: these occur when there is a direct force to the head or body that causes a disruption in brain activity leading to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, vision problems, cognitive issues or just not feeling right. These are the more common symptoms, but there are many others as well.
All of these injuries should be seen by healthcare professionals such as a Physician, Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist to assess and develop a course of action. In many states, including California, there are laws that if a concussion is suspected by anyone including a parent, coach or healthcare practitioner, the player must be removed from activity and see a doctor for further evaluation.
So what can be done to help prevent these injuries? There are a few things out of a players control such as enforcement of existing rules during play and curbing dangerous play by opponents. Below are some things that you can do to help limit injuries on the ice.
- Wear properly fitted equipment. Using older shin pads or shoulder pads that are too small may leave areas unprotected. Make sure your helmet fits you properly. The best helmet is the one that protects you the most. This means it fits snuggly to your head with the chin strap close to the chin and J hooks that stop the face mask from hitting your face on contact.
- Prepare for games both on and off the ice. Off the ice, a proper strength and conditioning program developed for your age and ability is key in limiting injuries. Your program should be designed by someone experienced in both sports performance training and hockey. Improving strength, mechanics, mobility and flexibility has shown to decrease injuries. Strength and conditioning should be varied throughout a season, but not ignored because of increased ice time. On the ice, proper preparation starting with the basics and advancing in skill and intensity leading up to the season is also beneficial.
- Injury recognition or know when your hurt versus injured is another key. Any injury that limits what you can do on the ice should be assessed by a healthcare practitioner. Athletic Trainers and Physical Therapists can help treat conditions that hurt before they become injuries that keep you out of practices and games. With concussions, if there are any signs and symptoms, seek medical advice from a qualified physician before returning to activity.
Overall, hockey is a safe sport to play. It does come with inherent risks, but the rewards can be pretty great. Enjoy the game, learn to be physically active and embrace the lasting friendships made with teammates and coaches.
Chris Phillips is an Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist with over 30 experience in professional sports. Chris spent 17 years in pro hockey including 8 in the NHL with the Ducks and Capitals. He is the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Orange County, California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.