Overcoming and Avoiding Ice Hockey Injuries

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Ice hockey is known for being fast, but considering the sticks, pucks and hard hits, it’s no surprise that those playing it sustain injuries.

“Collision injuries — against the boards, into each other and onto the ice — are very common,” said John Gallucci, chief executive officer of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy. “Soft tissue injuries also are very common in hockey players, and those include low-back strains, groin strains and hamstring strains. You also see the overuse component based on shooting. Because, whether a righty or a lefty, the athlete is always shooting in one direction. We call that an impingement syndrome.”

Players of all ages often find themselves missing time with impingements or strains, even when they wear the appropriate equipment. But a strong off-ice program that focuses on flexibility can help prevent many of these injuries. Common exercises for the hips, low back and hamstrings should be incorporated into the program and done daily, including knee-to-chest movements, a piriformis stretch, a normal quad stretch and a normal hamstring stretch.

For athletes to maintain the flexibility and condition that the sport demands, any off-ice program should be held at least three times a week, in and out of the season, Gallucci said.

“In youth hockey, what we usually see is the athletes being dropped off by parents. They run in, put their gear on, they get on the ice, and they go back and forth by car,” he said. “But when it comes to flexibility and strengthening, it's good to have an off-ice program in place.”

Programs such as those offered by Bryce Salvador, former captain of the New Jersey Devils, provide a strong off-ice program for youth hockey players that includes a lower extremity strengthening program and a flexibility program.

But it’s not just stretching. Athletes also must be mindful of weather, hydration and sleep habits.

“Our physical therapists and athletic trainers will definitely make sure they review hydration protocols and sleep patterns,” he said. “Think about the high school student studying for a test who doesn't really eat great, doesn't hydrate great, goes to practice and the rink is cold. When you’re cold, your body works harder to keep itself warm. You’re dehydrated, you’re already fatigued from studying for the test — all those factors go into a strain.”

Additionally, rather than seek medical attention, many individuals who experience an injury simply hope that it will go away with sleep or rest. But, since JAG-ONE accepts most insurances as an in-network provider, seeking treatment at JAG-ONE couldn’t be easier.

“Usually, I tell people, anytime you sustain an injury, if you have pain at 3 or 4 out of 10, you should seek the advice of a medical professional,” Gallucci said. “We always advise people to visit a physical therapist or an athletic trainer on the day symptoms show. Our clinics accept patients all the time directly. So you can walk in and say, ‘I have a hamstring strain; I got a quad strain; I’ve got a low-back strain. Can someone evaluate me and treat me?’ Because of direct access in New York and New Jersey, anybody could walk into a clinic and get assessed.”

Athletes and individuals may experience first-, second- and third-degree muscle strains, and if treatment is not given, the injury can only become worse and take longer to rehab. That, of course, means it will take even longer to get back to playing.

Physical therapists at JAG-ONE treat patients by using a variety of modalities, including electrical stimulation, heat or ice, depending upon acute versus non-acute and stretching. The physical therapists also add strengthening and functional components.

“At JAG-ONE, because we treat so many athletes from all walks of life, we actually do a return-to-sport strengthening and functional program. So it's not just normal rehab. Based on the sport that the athlete participates in, we put them through functional motions and a conditioning program to return them back to the ice,” Gallucci said.

A leader in physical therapy throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, JAG-ONE offers comprehensive rehabilitative care for general orthopedic, sports and soft tissue injuries; workers’ compensation cases; and Medicare patients. For more information, visit jagonept.com.