Understanding Groin Injuries in Ice Hockey: Prevention and Management
Gary Roberts Performance
November 27, 2023
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Gary Roberts Performance
November 27, 2023
With minor hockey starting up this weekend and the NHL only a few weeks away, we're getting excited! It's that time of year that has millions of players and fans around the world eager for puck drop and can't wait to watch the world's best show off their speed and skill.
But, make no mistake, it is a collision sport. Bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, concussions, and fractures are all too common when you play the game.
There was an ESPN ticker a few years back that said hockey hits are 17% harder than NFL collisions. We tried to find the source - unsuccessfully - but regardless, the speed of the game places hockey players at an increased risk of sustaining injuries.
We'll share a series of articles looking at different injuries over the next few months. Please be aware that this is NOT medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose an injury. It is a combination of information and our experience. Always consult with a medical professional
Among common hockey injuries, groin injuries are particularly prevalent. Today, we'll dive into the world of groin injuries in ice hockey, examining why they occur, symptoms, how to prevent injuries, and management techniques.
Common Hockey Injuries
Ice hockey is known for its high-intensity skating, constant change of direction, and fierce body checking. This is what makes it great, but there are risks associated with playing hard. Regardless of age or skill level, hockey players can sustain injuries whenever they step inside an ice rink.
Groin Injury: A Frequent Culprit
One of the most frequent injuries that plague hockey players is the groin injury. This trend has been studied for the last 30+ years, and results have stayed relatively consistent.
A study by Tyler et al. showed that 10-11% of all injuries are groin-related.
A recent study (2) examined the Swedish national league and involved 329 players and found that 53.2% of players experienced some type of groin or hip injury during the prior season.
The groin is an essential part of a player's lower body, and injuries to this region can be particularly debilitating, with at least 25% of those injured experiencing lingering or ongoing pain and dysfunction. Meaning that the pain lasted far longer than just a week or two. Some athletes have to deal with it the entire season.
To understand groin injuries better, let's delve into the anatomy, causes, and symptoms.
Regarding the groin, we're predominantly discussing the Adductor muscles, which run from your hip down the inside of your leg to the knee and the muscles of your Hip Flexor. Of your adductor group, the Adductor Longus is most often injured. These are pretty important muscles for hockey, considering they have a huge impact on your ability to skate.
Hip Adductor Muscles
Hip adductor muscles help bring your leg back toward the body's midline. These muscles are important for actions like crossing your legs. The primary hip adductor muscles include:
· Adductor Longus, Adductor Brevis, and Adductor Magnus: These muscles are on the inner side of your thigh, inserted by your knee, and work together to bring your leg inward.
Hip Flexor Muscles:
The hip flexor muscles help you bend your hip joint, which means lifting your thigh toward your chest. There are two important hip flexor muscles:
· Iliopsoas: This is actually two muscles, the psoas major and iliacus, that work together. They help you lift your leg, like striding up and down the ice.
Understanding Groin Injuries
Hockey injuries are usually a combination of factors, including:
Overexertion: The constant back-and-forth sprinting on the ice can cause a lot of stress on the groin.
Quick Directional Changes: Hockey involves rapid shifts in direction, causing strain on the groin.
Getting Hit: Body checks and collisions with other players can directly impact the groin area, especially if you fall awkwardly or weren't aware the hit was coming.
Poor Fitness: If your fitness is lacking, you're more susceptible to injury. (Don't waste your off-season; make sure you come into the season ready!)
Things Happen: Remember that hockey is an aggressive sport, and even if you do your best to prepare, things happen, and injuries occur.
Identifying the signs of a groin injury is crucial for early intervention. Common symptoms include:
Pain and discomfort in the groin area.
Tenderness and swelling.
Limited range of motion in the hip and groin.
A popping or snapping sensation during the injury.
Muscle soreness and weakness.
Immediate First Aid
When a player sustains a groin injury on the ice, immediate first aid is crucial. The team will likely have a trainer who can help initially.
We spend some time at the start talking about R.I.C.E and where it fits in.
Seeking Professional Evaluation
Groin injuries vary in severity, and it's essential to consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Depending on the severity, treatment may include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, or, in severe cases, surgery.
Rehabilitation and Strengthening Exercises
Rehabilitation is a critical aspect of hockey injuries, and you need to take your rehab seriously if you want to get back on the ice and help the team.
A physical therapist or well-versed strength coach can design personalized rehabilitation programs that focus on strengthening the injured area, improving flexibility, and restoring functional movement. Remember that training is just one piece of the treatment puzzle. What you eat - nutrition - and how you sleep have a huge impact on whether or not you get back to hockey in a few weeks or it lingers for months.
Gradual Return to Play
Returning to the ice after a groin injury should be a gradual process. Rushing back too soon can lead to re-injury. As you resume skating, you should work closely with your medical team and follow a proper return-to-play protocol, which includes gradual increases in intensity and monitoring for any signs of discomfort or pain. Limit the all-out sprinting and battles until the body has had a chance to adjust to training and play. Once you feel comfortable in practice competing against other players, you can consider playing a game.
One of the most effective ways to prevent hockey injuries is by training the lower body. Hockey players should focus on exercises that target the groin, hip, and thigh muscles. Training should support your on-ice play, so you shouldn't notice a negative impact on the ice.
Proper Hockey Warm-Up and Stretching
A comprehensive warm-up and stretching routine can significantly reduce the risk of getting hurt. Warming up before practice or games increases blood flow to the muscles, making them more pliable and less prone to injury. Dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and hip circles, are particularly beneficial for hockey players. If you want more information, check out our new article: Hockey Warm-Up | Why You Can't Afford to Skip It.
Technique and Skill Development
Teaching proper skating and playing techniques can minimize the risk of groin injuries. You should always focus on maintaining good balance and body positioning through your hip, knee, and ankle, which reduces the likelihood of overexertion or awkward movements that cause hockey injuries.
Rest and Recovery
Ice hockey players, especially youth hockey players, risk injury through their schedule alone, playing multiple games and practices every week. Adequate rest and recovery time are essential to prevent overuse injuries!
Coaches and parents should prioritize players' well-being and monitor their workload.
At the end of the day, hockey injuries are an unfortunate but common part of our beloved sport. Ice hockey's dynamic nature and physical demands put players at risk, but with the right precautions, these injuries can be minimized.
Young hockey players, in particular, should prioritize their long-term health by adhering to prevention strategies like strengthening the lower body, proper warm-ups and stretching, and skill development. In the event of a groin injury, immediate first aid and professional evaluation are essential for a successful recovery.
Ultimately, while ice hockey is a collision sport that may lead to injuries, players and coaches can work together to create a safer environment on the ice, emphasizing both performance and injury prevention. By taking these steps, hockey players can enjoy the sport they love while minimizing the risk.
Stay safe, stay in the game, and remember, we're always here to help!