We all know that ice hockey is a high-impact sport. At any given moment, there’s a chance for a collision with other players, the boards, or the possibility that the hockey puck will come hurling at your face at high speeds.
Due to the particular physical, and fast nature of the game, hockey players put themselves at an increased risk for injury every time they step onto the ice. Between body checking and unplanned collisions, the impact between players is inevitable. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the common problems that occur during hockey so that players (and coaches) can improve their ability to recognize, acknowledge, and seek treatment for such injuries.
Here’s what you should know about the 4 most common injuries in hockey, and what to do to prevent them.
Leading the group – to no surprise – is a concussion.
By definition, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body that results in chemical changes inside the brain.
Concussions in ice hockey typically happen when one hockey player collides with another in a head-to-head fashion. However, they can also be a result of head contact with the sideboards or the ice. Notably, concussions can occur without a direct blow to the head.
Knowing the signs of concussion and other concussion symptoms allows for prompt recognition, diagnosis, and treatment. Oftentimes, symptoms develop over a 48-hour period. Some things to look out for include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Double or blurry vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in mood
- Feeling “foggy”
Unlike a broken bone, concussions are not visible to the eye and, therefore, are easily missed. Parents, coaches, and other hockey players have the responsibility to report potential concussions, especially since the risk for a secondary injury is high. If any of these symptoms are noted, then the player should be immediately removed from the ice and not allowed to return until he/she is checked by medical personnel.
There is always a chance that something more sinister is occurring alongside a concussion. If the player presents with any of the following, then he/she should be taken to an ER right away:
- Worsening headache
- Slurred speech
- Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
- Repeated vomiting
Concussions should be treated by a concussion specialist, when available. The outlook for returning to the ice is extremely positive with prompt evaluations and treatment of the concussion. Typically, hockey players must undergo a state-mandated return-to-play protocol before being cleared for contact practice and games.
While concussions themselves are not preventable, education and awareness of game regulations, such as body checking, are crucial. Concussions in youth hockey players occur more frequently and are preventable, to an extent, when body checking is regulated by an officiating body.
2. Acromio-Clavicular (AC) Joint Sprain
Another common hockey injury is a sprain of the acromio-clavicular (AC) joint in the shoulder. The AC joint is a bony spot located on the top of the shoulder. It’s aptly named for the area of the shoulder, called the acromion, that meets the collarbone (clavicle). Also known as a “shoulder separation,” this injury occurs when a hockey player falls on the shoulder or an outstretched arm. In ice hockey, it can also happen by being checked by another player or slammed against the boards.
Hockey players with an AC joint injury will usually experience:
- Pain and tenderness at the AC joint
- Limited range of motion in the shoulder
Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery from an AC joint injury can range from a couple of weeks to a few months. Early treatment involves ice and anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.,) to decrease inflammation, tenderness, and pain in the joint. A physician may also place your arm in a sling to protect the shoulder from movement as the AC joint injury heals.
3. Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injury
The MCL is formally known as the Medial Collateral Ligament. It can be found on the inner (medial) aspect of the leg and runs from the femur to the tibia. This ligament is responsible for stabilizing the knee joint, especially during side-to-side movements.
An MCL injury can result from a direct hit to the outside of the knee, forcing the knee joint to cave in at an awkward and injurious angle. However, an MCL injury can also occur when a hockey player plants his skate while turning away (rotates) to one side.
Some signs and symptoms that a hockey player may have sustained an MCL injury include:
- Pain in the knee
- Tenderness over the MCL
- Weakness or instability of the knee
The good news is, most MCL injuries are not severe and heal within a few weeks. When treated with ice and rest, hockey players can be cleared for full-contact drills, practices, and games in no time. Most often, braces will be offered to provide support during and after healing.
4. Hamstring/Groin Strain
Another common injury in hockey players is a hamstring strain or groin issue. The hamstrings are found on the backside of the upper leg whereas the groin muscles are located on the inner side of the upper leg. These muscles are commonly affected, especially in ice hockey, due to the amount of work that the hamstrings and groin muscles do while skating.
Frequently, these injuries in hockey players usually occur as a result of a forceful start when skating. Paired with poor flexibility and an inadequate warm-up, hamstrings and groins are extremely vulnerable to strains or even tears.
Expect hockey players with groin or hamstring strains to exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- Limited range of motion
- Tenderness over the injured muscle
- Decreased strength of the affected muscle
Hockey players may also report pain when the affected muscle is stretched or strained. Stretching the groin involves pulling your leg away from your body, a motion known as abduction. To stretch the hamstring, you can do so by laying on your back and pulling your leg into a leg raise.
Treatment for a hamstring injury or groin strain generally includes ice, rest, and anti-inflammatory medication. Depending on the severity, it could take weeks to months to recover, and evaluation by a physician may be warranted.
The easiest way to prevent an injury to the groin or hamstring is through proper stretching and strengthening of the muscles. Preparing your body for high-velocity activities is also essential to avoiding these types of injuries.
How to Prevent Common Hockey Injuries
Proper strength and conditioning are essential to prevent common hockey injuries. Paired with the following, hockey players can set themselves up for success by using these injury prevention principles:
- Adequate warm-ups
- Proper protective gear
- Knowing the rules and regulations for your league
- Proper nutrition and hydration
Coaches and athletes alike should be aware of potential injuries in ice hockey that may result in a game or practice scenario. Awareness allows for proper training, and proper training sets the stage for injury prevention.
Struggling to come back from one of these common hockey injuries? Look no further than the professionals at Myokinetix, a premier physical therapy clinic in East Hanover, New Jersey. Our doctors of physical therapy are well equipped to handle ice hockey injuries, assess your movement status, and identify the best way to get you back on the ice. Call them today at 973-281-4787 to learn more about their Sports Injury Rehab Programs for hockey players.
MacGillivray, D. J. (2019, April 29). Top 5 Most Common Hockey Injuries -. HSS Playbook Blog. https://www.hss.edu/playbook/top-5-common-hockey-injuries/.
Mosenthal, W., Kim, M., Holzshu, R., Hanypsiak, B., & Athiviraham, A. (2017). Common Ice Hockey Injuries and Treatment: A Current… : Current Sports Medicine Reports. American College of Sports Medicine. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2017/09000/common_ice_hockey_injuries_and_treatment__a.18.aspx.
UPMC. (n.d.). Common Hockey Injuries & Prevention Tips for Athletes: UPMC. UPMC Sports Medicine. https://www.upmc.com/services/sports-medicine/for-athletes/hockey.