Few positions in sports can compare with the physical and psychological demands required to be a goalie. Whether you are a world-class goalie or playing the position for the first time, it’s an exciting game to be part of, but it’s important to be aware of all aspects of the position in order to stay on the ice and away from the trainer’s room.
Injury Risk At A Glance
Hockey players in general are more at-risk for injuries due to the uniqueness of the sport, though they also tend to play through pain and injury more so than any other sport. This is primarily due to the season being shorter than other sports, such as baseball, and there not being as much time to recover and still make it back in time to finish the regular season and potentially the playoffs. For goalies in particular, you are essentially out on an Island by yourself. You need to not only possess the athleticism to play the position at a high level, but the mental preparation to battle through what is arguably the most stressful position on the ice. In addition, while a goalie’s height and weight doesn’t necessarily impact risk factors, the style of play does. For example, many goalies use a technique known as butterfly style, which is where the goalie relies on their knees to drop down to the ice and spread the goal pads resembling a butterfly’s wings. The result of this style of play is greater pressure to the lower extremities, which increases the likelihood of injury.
Most Common Injuries
For goalies, it’s common for them to develop hip and groin-related injuries due to the mechanical and rotational movements required to play the position. Hip pain from a labral tear often presents sharp groin pain, which can be made worse when in a squatting or sitting position. This type of injury is then confirmed through a combination of a patient’s medical history, a physical exam, and appropriate imaging such as an X-ray or MRI. Separately, injuries such as contusions, or deep bruises, and contact injuries such as ligament tears and broken collarbones are also quite common given the physical nature of the sport.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for hip impingement and groin injuries as every case is truly different. In some instances surgery may be required, especially if the injury is thought to be so severe that you cannot play through the pain and continue a high-level of play. In other instances, rest and physical therapy may help you manage the pain and allow you to continue playing the season out. For an injury that involves hip surgery, recovery can generally take five to six months before the player can return to the ice. For other treatments such as groin surgery related to a core muscle injury, the recovery period is more likely to take up to 10 weeks.
It’s advised that prior to the start of a new season to have a thorough pre-screening examination to identify whether or not you are healthy enough to play. This is especially helpful in identifying whether or not you have a pre-existing injury and if you are putting yourself at an increased risk level. It’s also important to maintain a core strength and high endurance program to help protect you from fatigue and trauma-related injuries from occurring. However, there is no sure fire way to completely avoid an injury. For example, throughout a game there could be instances you cannot necessarily prepare for, such as a player running into you, a stick poking you in the eye, or a puck hitting you in an area such as the neck where you may have less padding and protection. Ultimately, there are actions that happen during the course of the game that cannot be prevented, but it’s important to always be aware and stay alert to help mitigate risk.
Playing the goalie position is a unique and exciting opportunity. Skills continue develop over time and can allow you to extend your career well into your 30s and sometimes into your 40s. If you play the position, work hard, and have a disciplined training program in place you will help improve your chances of avoiding serious injury.
Dr. Bryan Kelly is a specialist in sports medicine injuries and arthroscopic and open surgical management of non-arthritic disorders around the hip. He cares for several sports teams serving as Head Team Physician for the New York Rangers, Associate Team Physician for the New York Giants, the New York Red Bulls’ MLS team, and several collegiate teams in the tri-state region. Dr. Kelly currently serves as Chief of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service as well as the Co-Director for the Center for Hip Preservation, which is designed to provide multi-disciplinary care for patients at all levels with hip injuries.