It may not be a nationwide favorite like baseball or football, but hockey has been part of the North American sports scene professionally since 1917. This month, as a new season builds towards the Stanley Cup – and to celebrate the NHL’s centennial – we’re focusing on hockey injuries and how to avoid them!
If you think football is a dangerous sport, try imagining it on frozen water, at 30mph…with blades on the players’ feet. In fact, the last player to die as a direct result of an in-game incident in a major North American professional sport was a hockey player. In 1968, Bill Masterton, of the Minnesota North Stars, was knocked backwards in a collision and landed on his head, suffering internal brain injuries. And it is not just collisions you need to worry about. Hockey players have been hit in the face with speeding pucks, impaled on equipment, and slashed with other players’ skates. Thankfully, these incidents are extremely rare, and many have been prevented with the introduction of new and better protective clothing, but there are still opportunities for injury, as well as easy ways to help reduce the risk of them.
The most common hockey arm injuries are the result of crashing into the boards, the ice, and other players and can be particularly bad for the joints - shoulder, elbow and wrist. For injuries such as shoulder separations and broken collarbones, the only way to avoid them is to avoid the collisions – which may not be possible. Thankfully, these tend not to be serious and can be fixed with plenty of rest and a good sling. Players can protect their wrists from fracture by learning always to brace themselves with their forearms, rather than throwing out a hand to stop them. Bursitis in the elbow is also a common problem for hockey players – and involves the inflammation and swelling of a bursa. This is, essentially, a fluid-filled sack which forms over the joints and acts as a cushion between tendons and bones which can be a site of recurrent inflammation. The best way to prevent this is to make sure always to wear well-fitting elbow pads which provide support and protection.
Some of the most common soft tissue injuries in the game happen in the legs – particularly the groin and hips. The skating stride leaves hip flexors and groin muscles highly susceptible to injury so it is imperative that players undergo a strict off-season strengthening regime and that they warm up and stretch properly before practice. Again, bursitis of the hip pointer is also common but can be easily prevented by wearing hockey pants with reinforced padding. The ACL and MCL are also prey to injury during hockey games. The position of the leg with the skating stride, pushing the inside edge of the blade, can cause MCL strain and ACL disruption and torn cartilage in the knee can also occur.
Quite apart from the obvious damage which can be done if a player falls badly on the ice, the hockey stance can also be bad for your back. The forward-leaning skating posture plus frequent hyperextension stress can lead to severe lower back pain and pulled muscles. The best way to avoid these is to strengthen your back muscles so they are more up to taking the strain, but also to strengthen the abdominal muscles and developing a strong core.
As with most sporting injuries, however, the basic rules for preventing hockey injuries are the same: warm up, undergo sport-specific strength training, get a full physical before the season begins, cool down properly, and wear the appropriate clothing and protective gear.
If you want to support your local NY teams – head over to NBCSN or TVAS tonight at 8pm ET to watch the Rangers play the Philadelphia Flyers or tomorrow tune in on MSG+, SNE or RDS at 7pm ET to watch the Islanders play the mighty Montreal Canadiens.