If you play hockey, you’re most likely going to succumb to an injury at some point. Hockey is a fast moving sport that requires very sharp changes in direction and speed of movement and frequently involves high speed collisions between players. If either you or someone you know is considering entering the sport, even at a recreational level, it will serve you well to be aware of the most common injuries related to hockey and especially of the worst of these. We have put together a text describing 4 of the most frequently experienced and serious hockey injuries and provide suggestions on how to mitigate the risk of experiencing them. If you are unfortunate enough to experience any of these injuries, we also provide suggestions on the best way to recover from them and get back into the game through effective rehabilitation.
This is probably the most common of the serious hockey injuries that players can experience. The issue of concussions in particular and head injuries in general is one of the most hotly debated and serious topics in hockey circles. They reportedly account for 2-14% of all hockey injuries, but there is also evidence of significant under reporting of this injury, as it is frequently mistaken for something else.
Concussions can be the result of a direct blow to the head. However, generally speaking, anything that causes the brain to collide violently with the inside of the skull can result in this injury. Hockey is a contact sport in which players can frequently collide with each other causing sharp deceleration of the brain. The result can be a collision between the brain and inner skull and consequently a concussion injury.
Generally speaking, head injuries are among the most dangerous and hardest to recover from. So a concussion is not only a common hockey injury but also among the worst that you can experience. They occur at all ages and skill levels in the sport. At the highest level of the sport, concussions can cause weeks, months or even entire seasons away from the sport. Forced retirements from the game are also not unheard of. As athletes (and humans in general) become larger and stronger over time, experts expect the severity of concussions and other injuries caused by collisions between players to also increase.
Prevention & Treatment
There are very few proven ways to completely prevent concussions. However, strengthening the neck muscles, wearing proper head and face protection equipment, practising awareness and knowing the proper way to receive a body check are all ways to reduce the likelihood of a head injury.
Another way to reduce the risk of a serious concussion as a result of a blow to the face is to wear a mouthguard such as the Shock Doctor Gel Max Power. A mouthguard will reduce the amount of shock from the blow that reaches the brain. This in turn will reduce the potential injury the brain may experience as it collides with the inside of your skull.
Timing is absolutely crucial when it comes to recovering from a concussion. As soon as you feel symptoms, visit a medical professional. Rest is very important to recovery too, as is getting plenty of sleep, avoiding physically and mentally demanding activities, reducing or completely cutting consumption of alcohol and avoiding sustained computer use. You should also try to follow a diet rich in protein to maximize your body’s powers of recovery. These steps are outlined in greater detail here.
Medial Collateral Ligament Knee Injuries In Hockey
Another of the common and significant injuries in hockey results from damage to the medial lateral ligament (MCL) of the knee. In general, these come second only to concussions where serious hockey injuries are concerned.
The MCL plays an important role in stabilizing the structures of the knee. It forms a connection between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin) on the medial (inner) surface of the knee. This is the side of the knee closer to the centre of the body. The MCL is important because it helps to prevent excessive stretching or movement of this side of the knee.
In hockey, players frequently have to contend with direct blows to the outside of the knee. These blows can result in high forces being transmitted to the inner knee. In addition, players are also frequently in situations in which they are twisting the upper portions of their bodies with their feet being planted in fixed positions. This can cause very high twisting forces at the knee joint. Both these situations can therefore result in knee dislocation and MCL overstretching, tearing or other damage. Typical situations giving rise to these injuries include a low body check from another player and catching your skate edge on the ice and twisting your knee as a result.
If you suspect you have an MCL injury, it is important to seek a proper diagnosis from your athletic trainer or doctor. Proper treatment is essential if you are to fully recover and get back in action as soon as possible.
How Severe Is An MCL Injury?
The severity of your MCL injury can range from:
- A Grade I sprain that involves only an overstretching or minor tearing of the ligament. These will usually heal after a couple of weeks of treatment and rehabilitation;
- A Grade II sprain, which is a larger tear than a Grade I injury but still leaves the MCL partially attached. These will usually heal over 3-4 weeks of rest and other treatment/rehabilitation as described below;
- A Grade III sprain, which involves a completely torn and detached ligament. These can take 4-6 weeks or longer to heal and may require surgical treatment.
Prevention & Treatment
As with concussions, it is difficult to prevent or completely avoid hockey injuries due to MCL damage.Therefore, the emphasis should be on accurate diagnosis and proper treatment/management of these injuries as soon as possible after their occurrence.
Common symptoms of these hockey injuries include a “tight” sensation on the inner surface of the knee, followed by swelling in that area. Once you suspect an injury of this type, the typical R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) process should begin. As soon as you have an opportunity, you should arrange for medical imaging (e.g. MRI) to assess the severity of the injury. Imaging will also help your doctor determine whether other knee structures such as your meniscus or Anterior Cruciate Ligament are also affected.
As your knee injury heals, your doctor will help you to begin a process of rehabilitation. This will include strengthening exercises for your leg such as lunges and squats. You may also need to perform other exercises such as side to side shuffling and bounding and single wall standing. These routines will help you improve your balance and stabilization.
Your doctor may also recommend the use of an MCL knee support to prevent excessive forces on the MCL during healing. These forces may retard the healing process. Other treatments that will provide the support and stabilization the knee requires to properly heal may include the use of athletic tape.
Shoulder Injuries In Hockey
As we have mentioned above, collisions between hockey players are a frequent occurrence. These collisions subject hockey players’ bodies to high forces that can result in injuries like concussion, but also shoulder and back injuries. Besides collisions, hockey players can suffer shoulder injuries upon falling on the ice (if they fall directly onto their shoulders) or upon colliding with the boards at the perimeter of the rink.
Shoulder injuries in hockey involve the clavicle, scapula and the acromioclavicular (AC) joint where they meet. Please refer to the image on the right. The most common shoulder injuries in hockey are:
- Shoulder separation,in which the shoulder comes out of the AC joint;
- Shoulder dislocation, in which the shoulder comes out of its socket;
- Clavicle fracture.
The symptoms of these shoulder injuries can include tenderness in the area and possibly gaping. As with MCL injuries, the severity of shoulder injuries can range from Grade I (mild) to Grade III (severe). The appropriate treatment options depend on the severity of the injury.
Prevention & Treatment
Preventative measures include working to improve alignment and posture and strengthening the serratus anterior muscle (a muscle found near the first eight ribs and extremely important for the health of the shoulder complex). Hockey players can also strengthen the rotator cuff muscles to keep the shoulder joint stable. Wearing appropriate protective equipment (padding) can also help to reduce the risk of injury.
Initial treatment for a shoulder injury should include application of ice and immobilization of the joint. As with concussion and MCL injuries, accurate and early diagnosis of the injury and its severity are critical. This will require physical examination by your doctor as well as possibly medical imaging such as an X Ray exam.
If the injury is of Grade I or Grade II severity, rest, icing and support should be adequate. The physical therapist may recommend using an arm sling or other shoulder support to take pressure off the joint and promote recovery. You may also be able to obtain a bubble protection around the AC joint to protect it from additional blows during the recovery period. A Grade III injury may however require surgery to repair the damage.
As recovery progresses, your physical therapist will recommend a program of physical therapy that will strengthen the joint and promote recovery to full functionality.
Back Injuries In Hockey
As with shoulder injuries, back injuries in hockey commonly occur due to the high risk of collisions with other players or of falling awkwardly on the ice. Additional factors that make this one of the common hockey related injuries are the pressure on the lower spinal region – a result of the repeated lower spine extensions and bent forward posture required while skating. The rotational stresses on the lumbar disks involved in accelerating quickly also introduce stress on the lower back area.
The most common back injuries among hockey players are:
- Muscle strains and sprains in the lower back area;
- Stress fractures of the vertebrae, also known as spondylolysis. Like back sprains, this is an overuse injury caused by excessive stress on the back;
- Herniated discs, involving bulging and ruptures to the rubbery cushions located between the spinal vertebrae and acting as shock absorbers.
Prevention & Treatment
The best way to reduce the risk of injuring your back is to ensure that you stretch and strengthen your hip flexors, hamstrings, lower back, abdominal muscles and gluteal muscles before play. Another strategy to reduce this risk is the use of an appropriately designed back support that will provide lower back support and ease the stress on the lower back.
If you do experience a back injury, the priority should be on early and accurate diagnosis of your condition to ensure appropriate treatment. This should ideally include medical imaging such as an X ray in order to assess the severity of the condition.
For issues such as mild back pain or muscle strains, treatment typically involves physical therapy, rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Topical analgesics such as 19 Paths CBD Infused Herbal Relief Rub are another option to consider. In more serious cases, such as herniated discs, surgical processes, lengthier recovery periods, medication and physical therapy may be required. There are also back supports for spondylolysis or herniated discs, and your doctor may recommend wearing one of these to help the rehabilitation process.