Shoulder Injuries Rampant During Hockey Season
December 30, 2003
By Jennifer Solar for Shoulder1
PJ Alexsson of the Boston Bruins and Barret Jackman of the St. Louis Blues are just two on the list of players in the National Hockey League who are currently sidelined due to shoulder injuries.
Considering the high speeds involved as well as the hard surfaces of the ice and boards, it’s easy to see that players are at risk for injury. However, these factors are not the only ones to blame for the prevalence of injury to the shoulder.
According to a Finnish study published in a recent issue of the The American Journal of Sports Medicine, injuries to the upper extremities are quite common. The authors also found in their retrospective study that of injuries to the shoulder in 1996, 75% were caused by checking or collisions with players.
Certain collisions are intrinsic to ice hockey as a component of legal play. Checking, or "intentional body contact," according to William Roberts, MD of the University of Minnesota Department of Family Practice, is the use of the body to move a player off or away from the puck. Roberts adds that "hits that stretch the rules increase the risk of injury."
It isn’t that shoulder pads in the equipment are not protective enough or need improving, according to Dr. Roberts. "The equipment has proven protective value, but there’s still quite a bit of force when people hit," said Dr. Roberts.
Also, he said, safety is about ice hockey players playing with respect for themselves and for others.
"I usually use the analogy that on the road, if people don’t follow the rules, accidents will happen," said Roberts. "In ice hockey, if players don’t follow the rules, injuries will happen."
Dr. Mike Bracko of the Institute of Hockey Research and Exercise Physiologist for the University of Alberta women’s hockey team alternatively hasn’t seen many injuries of shoulder in women's ice hockey.
"It’s been my experience, at least with one team, that it’s not that prevalent," said Dr. Bracko.
It just so happens that according to Dr. Bracko, checking is not allowed in women’s hockey.
Also alluding to the association between checking and shoulder injuries, Dr. Roberts said that he sees the most of these injuries in older adolescents. He attributed the shift in injuries to the introduction of checking into boys’ hockey. The authors of the Finnish study, led by Jouko Mölsä, MD of the LIKES Research Center for Sport and Health Sciences in Jyväskylä, Finland, also found in their research a considerable increase of injuries from the 11-year old group to the 12-14 year old group. In Finland, checking is prohibited in players before the age of 12.
Checking is to ice hockey as tackling is to American football. What then, can be done about the prevalence of shoulder injuries?
Dr. Mölsä and his co-authors suggest that the number of shoulder injuries in ice hockey may be lowered by strict refereeing and also suggest that trainers make sure players master the skill of checking.
Dr. Bracko adds that the most important thing players can do to prevent injuries and improve performance is participate in strength-training exercises during the season as well as during off-season.
Last updated: 30-Dec-03