Just two weeks ago you were skating off that frozen sheet one last time. Now you’re crouched over trying to tie your shoe with one foot on a half-pulled-out gym bleacher.
Your hip-flexors feel impinged, glutes over-stretched and your achilles tendon closely resembles a steel cable. Your lacrosse coach was wishing you luck (wink) as your fellow lacrosse captains ramped-up skills camp while you were leading your team deep into the playoffs. Your club soccer coach wanted to know if you would be ready for the Phoenix showcase in two weeks and your classmates can’t wait to join you on spring break in-between. This is the world we live in. One able body with increased external demands and expectations accompanied by an unrelenting internal drive to fulfill them.
With your orthopedic integrity in mind, I offer you a bag of tricks that will not only clear the path to an injury-free spring, but also, if you make it part of your daily routine, can pave the same path right though your career.
As we’ve discussed in a few different scenarios in both New England Hockey Journal as well as the strength and conditioning segments on NEHJ TV on NESN, hockey players are predisposed to several dryland injuries because of the fixed position of many of their joints during the functional movements of hockey. For hockey players transitioning to upright sports like lacrosse, club soccer and baseball, hip flexors, psoas muscle, achilles tendons, tibial/fibula talar (ankle joint), low back, quadriceps and hamstring injuries are the most prevalent injuries suffered early in the spring season. In professional sports, an athlete will spend the first four to six weeks after the season ends to deload and enter a macrocycle of restorative care for muscles, joints and mind.
Because you are not a professional athlete, you do not focus on one sport and you do not have multiple weeks to recover, the following two joint mobilizations will help to reduce injuries that are sure to plague even the most fit hockey athlete as they progress into spring sports.
1. POTENTIAL INJURIES: Low back pain, IT band syndrome, overactive TFL, snapping hip syndrome, quad strains, groin pain, labral tears and others.
SOLUTION: Anterior hip capsule mobilization: Limited hip extension cannot be relative to muscle tightness alone. Research suggests that forward-flexed athletes (hockey players) have a greater predisposition to anterior-pelvic tilt and lumbar lordosis during running. To help rectify this dysfunction, we encourage all athletes to anchor a large “Monster Band” to a solid object about 18 inches off the ground. Place the band as high up into your groin as possible, then place that same knee on the ground. Back away from the pole until there is a significant amount of traction yet it is not uncomfortable. The opposite leg should be bent at 90 degrees at the hip, knee and ankle. From here, while breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, contract the glute muscle on the side of the downward (band side) knee and hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat these eight times on each hip.
PRECAUTIONS: Remain upright in posture like a proud pigeon. Do not thrust your hip forward to stretch your hip flexor. Your goal is to squeeze your glute, which will draw your femur forward against your anterior capsule. You will feel a slight burn down your quad. It’s working.
2. POTENTIAL INJURIES: achilles tendonitis, tibiotalar impingement, ankle sprains, tibialis anterior inflammation, plantar fasciitis, peroneal tendonitis, posterior tibialis stress syndrome (shin splints) and others.
SOLUTION: Anterior and posterior ankle mobilizations with movement (MWM). Due to the limited range of motion of the ankle inside the skate, hockey players often exit the season with restricted mobility, shortened achilles tendons, weak calf and lower-leg muscles. Utilizing banded anterior and posterior talocrural mobilizations, you can regain full range of motion that will allow your glutes, quads, hamstrings and lower-leg muscles to absorb the forces of running, jumping and changing direction without injury. Place the same Monster Band at an anchor point as close to the ground as possible. Facing the anchor point, put the band around the bottom of your shin bone, just above your two ankle bones. The opposite leg should be bent at 90 degrees at the hip, knee and ankle. While forcing your body weight through your banded heel, rock your knee forward over your toes while maintaining heel contact with the floor. Repeat this rocking motion for one minute on each ankle. To perform a posterior glide, turn with your back to the anchor and repeat the process.
PRECAUTIONS: Always maintain heel contact to the floor. Ensure the band is placed just above you medial and lateral ankle bones. Small clicks and pops are normal. This is called achieving “play” within the joint. It’s working.