Think of your favorite football player in ice skates, and you get the image of what hockey is all about. But it goes three steps better when it comes to injury:
- Ice is harder than dirt.
- Skates have sharp blades.
- Hockey sticks make better weapons than footballs do.
The 10 Top Hockey Injuries
Not every high school has a hockey team. They are mostly found in the colder regions of the country. But that doesn't mean that ice hockey is any less dangerous. Think of it as football—with the added danger of playing on ice. No wonder mothers and fathers contemplate moving to Florida! Beware the overzealous coach who dares players to improperly tackle and kick.
Common injuries include concussions and breaks resulting from falls on hard ice, and cuts from sharp skate blades. Players can also get frostbite. A first aid kit should include pain killers, adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, waterproof adhesive tape, rubbing alcohol, first aid cream, and insulated blankets.
For step-by-step first aid treatment, see How to Treat Wounds and Stop Bleeding and Bandaging Wounds for treating such emergencies as bleeding, bandaging cuts and wounds, immobilizing, and treating for shock. See First Aid for Eye Injuries eye damage, First Aid for Scrapes, Cuts, Bumps, and Bruises for bumps and bruises, Why Head Injuries Are So Dangerous for head injury, and Sprains and Breaks for sprains and breaks.
Before You Put the Band Aid On
Athletes learn early on whether they are “loose-jointed” or “tight-jointed.” For players who are hyperflexible and loose, flexibility isn't a problem. Strength is. They need to concentrate on strength-training exercises, using weights and gym machines. “Tight-jointed” players, on the other hand, have strong, tense muscles, ones that pull and strain. These athletes must stretch every day to gain flexibility.
- Lower back problems. Hockey players are always bending, looking down at the puck, aiming, and hitting. This constant bending motion can create aches and pains in the lower back area.
- Neck injury. The same bending motion that affects the lower back can also strain the upper back and neck as well. Add turning your head to aim while bending and you have the makings of an injury.
- Foot injury. You won't see too many hockey players with flat feet, but, even so, skating for hours at a time can cause havoc to toes, heels, and ankles. The lack of circulation, the unrelenting pressure on the heel, the tight lacings at the ankle—all of these can cause problems.
- Tendonitis. Hockey players are vulnerable to the painful inflammation of the tendon at the back of the leg. Why? All that skating combined with the twisting and turning of the game adds unrelenting pressure to the leg.
- Head injury. Ice is slippery, and more than one hockey player has had his helmet skid off when he was checked and fell down hard.
- Black eye. Hockey players are required to wear helmets, headgear, shoulder pads, and knee pads. But only the goalies get a special head “cage” to protect their faces. A misaligned hockey stick or a high-stepping puck can use vulnerable eyes as a target.
- Broken teeth. Remember the rule: ice is harder than dirt. Even with protective gear, teeth can chip, break, and splinter if a player falls down hard.
- Frostbite. If the bleachers are cold, you can imagine how cold the actual arena is. Hockey players might build up a sweat as they race across the ice, but their hands are always grasping their hockey stick and their feet are immobile in their skates. This lack of movement interferes with circulation. Gloved hands, sock-covered feet, and even masked faces can feel this painful effect of the unrelenting icy cold when it lasts for longer than 20 minutes.
- Cuts and bleeding. Ice hockey has the added dimension of skates—with razor sharp blades. Fast, faster, faster still, the other team charges, sliding along on their skates. One player checks you, then another. Another falls—and cuts your arm with the bottom of his blade.
- Spinal cord injury. Sometimes the whole back is involved in a fall. Ice is slippery, and players will fall. Some of them fall backward, right on their backs. If a player injures his spinal cord, he might not be able to move. As in football, head, neck, and back injuries can occur with poor technique. Checking, ice hockey's version of tackling, must be taught and rehearsed over and over again to help reduce injury.
- Broken bones. Even with the use of shoulder pads, shin guards, and other gear, bones can get broken. A player might look like a superpower hero from Star Wars, but one bad check to the boards, and a twist or an awkward fall can bypass protection and cause a break.
On Thin Ice: Treatment and Cures
Backs can become stronger if players concentrate on strengthening their thighs and posterior muscles. By making these muscles strong and flexible, they can act as a “pedestal” for the bent back, preventing strain.
Hockey players need frequent breaks to avoid frostbite and other circulatory problems. Before playing hockey it is a good idea to add dollops of petroleum jelly on your lips, wear layers under your uniform and flex your hands frequently on the ice.
And, as always, don't forget your ice-skating warm up and those all important stretches on the inside bar of the arena.