On Thin Ice: How YOU Can Prevent Ice Hockey Injuries

By Erica Marcano, MS ATC, CSCS and Lauren Panariello

Each sport has its list of common injuries, from ACL tears in soccer to Tommy John surgery in baseball. Just because an injury occurs fairly often, it doesn’t mean it should become the norm for an athlete in that sport.  In fact, at the most elite levels, athletes, coaches, and the healthcare professionals who work with them, know that a few simple steps can seriously lower the risk of commonplace sport-specific injuries.

This writer sat down with Physical Therapist Adam Discepolo to discuss common ice hockey injuries and prevention techniques.  Adam has much experience in this area, as he currently performs the pre-season musculoskeletal exams for the New York Islanders and its minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

One of the most important tests Discepolo administers is a Manual Muscle Test and Flexibility Assessment for the inner and outer groin and hip muscles. The most common soft-tissue injuries in Hockey Players include “groin pulls” (strains of the adductor muscles) and “hip flexor pulls” (strains of the rectus femoris or iliopsoas muscles).

The mechanics of the skating stride make the hip and groin muscles especially susceptible to injury,” Discepolo explains. “The repetitive explosiveness during a stride puts significant stress on the hip flexor on the involved leg, and the groin muscles on the opposite leg, which is stabilizing and balancing during the stride.

As many athletes know, a severe strain can become a nagging injury that hinders and limits performance throughout the season. Therefore, it’s important to have symmetrical strength and flexibility in both the abductors and adductors of the hip.

Another common complaint among Hockey Players that can often be addressed and prevented through the proper combination of stretching and strengthening is “low back pain”.

Due to the flexed posture and frequent hyperextension stress of skating, Hockey Players are at risk of significant hip flexor tightness coupled with weakness of the lower abdominals, a combination that can lead to both chronic and acute low back pain,” says Discepolo.

To help his athletes avoid this injury, Discepolo stresses the importance of stretching the hip flexors and low back muscles, as well as strengthening the glutes, back, and abdominals.

While stretching and strengthening aren’t a cure-all, they are an essential component of a successful training program for any Hockey Athlete. Work them into your training program, and avoid that “thin ice”.

If you are experiencing pain that is not resolved by conventional treatment, it is always recommended that you see a doctor for evaluation and possible imaging.

Adam Discepolo, DPT, is the Clinical Director at Professional’s Merrick facility.  He is also a former athlete, having played both collegiate and semi-professional hockey.