If you’re following the hockey teams competing at the Olympics this year, you may be hearing a lot about groin injuries. The prevalence of groin injuries in hockey players has been well documented. In fact, groin strains account for 10-11% percent of all injuries for professional ice hockey and soccer players throughout the world. In the past, the cause of these injuries was often attributed to tight muscles and a lack of flexibility. However, more recent research suggestions that muscle imbalances are most likely to blame. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that players who strained an adductor muscle had exhibited 18% less hip adduction strength in the preseason, as compared to players who did not get injured.
So what does that mean exactly? In order to better understand groin injuries, it helps to understand the mechanics of skating. To propel forward during the skating stride, the athlete utilizes the muscles on the outside of the hip, known as the hip abductors and external rotators. These muscles are generally well developed in hockey athletes. When a player needs to slow down or come to a quick stop, they use the muscles of the groin (the adductors) to stabilize the hip. When a strength imbalance exists between the strong hip abductors and weaker hip adductors, the athlete is at more risk for developing a groin strain.
Muscle imbalances develop over time, but when a groin strain occurs the player feels it immediately. The most obvious symptom is pain in the groin area, especially when moving the leg to the affected side and the player will not be able to skate with any speed. The immediate treatment of groin strains is the same as that used for other musculoskeletal injuries; ice and compression are essential during the first week. Injuries that result in profound weakness or an inability to walk may be more severe and should be further evaluated by a physician.
To help prevent groin strains altogether, hockey players should consider incorporating exercises that strengthen their groin muscles into their training. Examples include exercises that involve the legs moving together against as a resistance band, and dynamic balance activities such as standing and reaching to simulate the movements that are encountered during regular game play.