Performing any sort of athletics comes with a certain degree of risk for injuries. With hockey being a collision sport, the risk is particularly high. There’s potential for injury from contact between players, from the stick, a flying puck, and impact against the boards. More than 60,000 hockey injuries are treated annually, including muscle stains, ligament sprains, joint dislocations, lacerations. Serious injuries are rare, but broken teeth, concussions, fractures and spinal cord injuries can occur. Minimizing that risk is at the forefront of sports medicine practice. Here are a few key elements of playing the game safely:
Properly Selected, Appropriately Fitted Equipment
In sports, such as hockey, that involve direct contact between players, one of the foremost protective measures against injury is properly selected, appropriately fitted equipment. That includes protection from being hit by the puck and an inadvertent flying hockey stick. As you watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, notice the amount of gear a professional hockey player wears. Equipment is a major part of the game, and the amount and expense of outfitting a player for safe participation is intensive. The list includes ice hockey skates (not to be confused with standard ice skates), a helmet with a cage and mouth-guard, neck guard, shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin guard, hockey pants, hockey gloves and a jockstrap (for males) or a pelvic protector (for females). Ask for assistance in ensuring a proper fit at the sporting goods store, and ask your coach to help check your equipment. If you or your child is just getting started in the sport, you can purchase used equipment to mitigate some of the cost but it’s imperative that the equipment fits correctly.
Another critical part of injury prevention in hockey is being able to skate effectively. Using basic ice skates is not the same thing, and it is vital to master skating forward and backward on hockey skates. Most rinks that offer ice hockey play have pre-hockey skating classes that teach skating fundamentals and are available at all age levels.
Over the past several years the hockey community has begun to place a lot of emphasis on reducing the number of injuries. Research has led to rule changes and better rules enforcement. Additionally, coaches and officials are being better educated by ice hockey organizers in order to provide a safer environment for players.
Rett Talbot is a physical therapist, sports clinical specialist, board certified athletic trainer, and certified strength and conditioning specialist at HSS Spine & Sport in Jupiter, Florida.