Hockey is considered a “collision” sport, and for good reason. Injuries occur from not only slamming into other players at high speeds, they can also occur from getting smacked with other players’ sticks, being thrown and smashed into the boards, and having a solid, hefty object (the puck) being catapulted into your body.
If that weren’t enough, non-contact injuries can also occur from falling on the ice. For example, gamekeeper's thumb is a condition where a player's thumb is bent backwards during a fall (or strained while gripping their stick during a fall).
One of the most common types of hockey injuries occurs in the shoulder joint. It's no surprise, since a player's shoulders take the brunt of the impact when falling, checking, and slamming into the boards.
In addition, more than 63,000 hockey-related injuries are medically treated each year, and include everything from deep muscle bruising and muscle pulls to concussions and dislocations.
As you can see, while hockey can be fun and exciting to watch, it can be a violent and devastating sport to play.
Good equipment is only the starting point to safer ice hockey. Rule changes and better enforcement of existing rules have come a long way over the past decade to reduce the number of serious injuries.
With all that said, if you do get hurt while playing hockey, it's important that you respond quickly and appropriately. Here are three steps to follow if you find yourself injured on the ice:
Step #1: Listen to your body and stop playing.
Pushing through the pain may sound like a good idea (especially if you’re young and seemingly “invincible”), but it's one of the worst mistakes you can make. If you're truly injured and in pain, stop what you're doing and move on to Step #2!
Step #2: Assess the injury and either care for the injury yourself or seek professional help.
If you're in severe pain, your body is disabled in any way, or if you experience numbness – seek medical attention immediately.
If you've injured an eye, you experience bleeding, immediate swelling, or immediate bruising, have an extremity that appears to be shorter than usual or in an “unnatural position,” immobilize the injured area and seek professional help immediately.
If you seek medical help, then please follow their advice.
If you are not experiencing any of the above and you believe your injury is mild enough not to seek medical attention, then we recommend you:
- Immediately apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables on the injured area. Doing so helps reduce pain and decrease blood flow and swelling. Keep the ice on your injury for 10-20 minutes and then remove it. For better results, ice your injury this way several times a day for two to three days.
Whatever you do, DO NOT APPLY HEAT during the first 72 hours following an injury! This includes hot pads, hot baths and warming liniments. Heat increases pain, blood flow, and swelling – and can actually delay your recovery.
You'll also want to elevate the injured area above the level of your heart to help reduce blood flow and swelling.
NOTE: Nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as ibuprofen, can be useful in treating a sports injury. Like icing and elevating the area, these medications decrease inflammation and reduce pain. Please use as directed and seek medical attention if pain persists for more than a few days.
- Rest and let yourself heal. When you're hurt, resting the injured area is extremely important. Do not continue to play or practice. This will place undue strain on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Believe it or not, resting your body allows it to heal faster than the “no pain, no gain” mentality.
This rest period could take as little as a couple of days, or it could require weeks or months to recover. If you're injury doesn't heal within 3 weeks, you may consider scheduling an appointment with an orthopedic doctor.
Step #3: Start the rehabilitation process and slowly get back into action.
If you follow the above protocol and your pain level and swelling have diminished, then you can slowly return to your previous level of activity.
We encourage you to slowly return with some gentle stretching and careful movements to help you prevent scar tissue from forming.
In addition, since scar tissue can interfere with movement and cause pain down the road, you may consider seeking a physical therapist or massage therapist to assist you in this recovery process.
Lastly, to maintain your overall fitness level during your rehabilitation period, you may consider choosing a training routine that imitates hockey movements, but doesn't use the same muscles in the same way.
For example, instead of spending hours taking slap shots after a shoulder injury, you can add swimming and gentle, dynamic stretching to your rehab routine to help ease your shoulder back into shape and get your cardio-conditioning back on track.
Use common sense and play smart to avoid any further injury.
We hope you stay healthy and safe. However, if you do find yourself injured on the ice, we hope these steps get you back in action as soon as possible.
Lastly, if you do get injured and need to seek immediate medical help, we’re here for you!