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Injury Prevention

Craig Ballantyne


The injury rate in ice hockey is increasing due to a greater number of participants, faster game play, larger players, longer seasons, and poor pre-season conditioning. In fact, it has been calculated that a competitive ice hockey player suffers some sort of injury every 7 hours of play (1). By addressing the previously identified factors, the strength and conditioning coach or athletic trainer may help avoid preventable injuries. On the other hand, injuries caused by rule infractions most often can not be avoided by even the best strength and conditioning program.

A recent review reported trauma accounts for 80% and overuse for 20% of all hockey injuries (2). As well, injury occurrence peaked in the third period and was lowest in the opening frame. These observations suggest that fatigue is an influential factor in the development of injury, but this is very difficult to prove.

Groin injury is an extremely common complaint among players at all levels, therefore it was surprising to find the knee was the most prevalent hockey injury site. The shoulder, groin, and back were three other body parts with a high-rate of injury (3).

The best manner of injury prevention is complete physical preparation specifically for the game of hockey. The first step is the administration of a sport-specific fitness test. A general fitness test is beneficial in determining basic physical attributes of players, but a sport-specific test will address concerns such as the specific metabolic demands of the game and potential injury areas that need high levels of strength. Fitness testing also aids rehabilitation. Players must train to achieve their pre-injury level of strength prior to returning to play. If the athlete returns to play too quickly, they are often at a greater risk of re-injury.

Training considerations include a proper warm-up and flexibility program design. Again, players and coaches should not settle for a general training prescription, BUT/ all exercises should be sport-specific for optimal adaptation and safety. For example, prior to an agility training session, players should perform low-intensity lateral movement in order to prepare the adductor muscles (groin area) for the high-intensity lateral movements to be used in training drills. Flexibility exercises should be activity-specific and included both before and after training.

In general, develop a base level of fitness and strengthen the muscles important to hockey performance and safety. A better overall level of conditioning will reduce the chance of injury. Sport-specific training will help to reduce injury incidence over the season by increasing strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. Identify any previous injury sites and give preferential training to these areas. NO injuries should occur from the off-ice, off-season training program. When beginning a new activity, start easy and gradually progress to higher intensities (Do NOT ignore any pain caused by activity). Always cool-down (to aid in the transition from exercise to rest) and use the proper technique and equipment for all activities.


Cox, M. H., D. S. Miles, T. J. Verde, and E. C. Rhodes. Applied physiology of ice hockey. Sports Med. 19: 184-210, 1995.

Daly, P. J., F. H. Sim, and W. T. Simonet. Ice hockey injuries: a review. Sports Med. 10: 122-131, 1990.

Simmen, H. P., N. Biasca, A. R. Bartolozzi, et al. Epidemiology of typical ice hockey related injuries: survey of North American NHL and Hockey Canada versus

European Leagues. Am. J. Sports Med. 1995

Article by Craig Ballantyne of SportSpecific.com. Craig has helped 1000's of athletes improve their sports performance. Visit http://www.SportSpecific.com for FREE "how-to" sports training articles, discussion groups, chatrooms, newsletters and more. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to their Free, monthly SportSpecific Training Newsletter: mailto:join-sportspecific@lists.dundee.net


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