In my last article I discussed briefly the importance of testing young hockey players for their flexibility and mobility level as well as posture. Here, I will share in more detail the importance of testing players and how to identify what they need to help them stay injury free.
We all know that accidents happen and some players get injured during the season from collisions, but what about when a player pulls or strains a muscle without knowing how it happened. When my hockey teams start their in-season dry-land training I ask those to raise their hands if they’ve ever been injured, and almost everyone puts their hand up. Those kinds of injuries are completely preventable and must be addressed before the season even begins.
So how do we prevent these things from happening and why do they happen? I always say to my athlete’s and parents, it’s not a matter of if, but when a hockey player strains or pulls a muscle. All rotational sport athletes will develop an imbalance on one side from the over-active repetitive movement. That repetitive motion on one side of the body will eventually cause the opposite side to become weaker and create unnecessary muscle pulls or strains.
Not only that, but hockey players use the same muscle groups over and over on the ice and don’t get the same kind of muscle stimulation as athletes on the field or court. So you can imagine again, the imbalance that can occur over time as certain muscle groups become weaker by not getting the same activity. This is prevalent in many groin pulls you see in hockey players.
Players should be tested using what’s called a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) that uncovers any imbalances in flexibility and mobility as well as postural concerns. A scoring system is used to measure progress and determine what kind of re-corrective exercises should be performed to balance both sides of the body. Much of this work is done during the movement preparation stage and cool down phase of a program. Players will perform mobility exercises that also involve some kind of stretch at the same time while warming up, or “preparing for the program”.
Other ways to improve body imbalances and identify those weak links are to use specific kinds of equipment to induce what’s called, “myofascial release”. What we are looking for here is basically to massage the muscles and release any knots from over-activity or compensating imbalances. Stretching definitely will help but will not get the knots out. It’s like tying a knot in an elastic band and stretching the band, the knot only gets tighter. If you could only hear a whole hockey team voice the painfulness of a foam roller, it’s evident how bad they need to use it on a regular basis.
A lacrosse ball or tennis ball is also a great tool for massaging areas that is hard to get with the roller. A lot of players complain of tightness in their calf muscles and Achilles tendon, which can limit a full deep squat because of limited ankle flexion. One of the best tools to use here is a massage stick to roll up and down the lateral side of the soleus, or calf muscle.
Pick yourself up some or all of these tools and perform every day for at least 10-15, and especially before practices and games. You will find yourself feeling better, moving better and avoiding any potential injuries in the future.