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Keeping Athletes Safe On and Off the Ice

Written by Amy Pisz, PTA
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As we are in the midst of summer and our athletes are hard at work training for their favorite sport, we tend to forget about those in the rink who have increased their practice time by double or triple what they normally do during the school year.  Figure skaters and hockey players are hard at work indoors to prepare for the coming season.  Hockey players are attending camps to learn new plays and increase their speed and agility on and off the ice.  Figure skaters are hard at work to get to the next level and are pushing themselves harder than ever.  These athletes are prone to over use injuries just like all other sports, figure skaters more so than hockey players.

            Figure skaters are at an increased risk for back injuries.  A skater will land on average 50-60 jumps during one practice session. If you break down what is happening at the spine when a skater is in the air they are not only extending at the spine but they are also rotating and then loading the spine when they land.  For the younger skaters that are completing the higher quantity of jumps while they are still growing leaves them at an increased risk for spinal stress fractures.  This is also assuming they land each jump, which thinking logically, will not happen.  So then the spine is also absorbing impact from the skater falling.

            When a skater falls they are also at risk for injury to another area of the body.  Hockey players are at an equal risk when they fall or when they are checked into the boards or suffer from a hit from another skater.  These injuries are not preventable but are something that a physical therapist treats.

            A physical therapist may see a figure skater or hockey player for a similar injury that another off ice athlete would suffer from, including but not limited to pulled muscles, over use injuries, back pain, shin splints, etc.  Just like any other athlete prevention is key.  The essential to prevention of an injury on ice for a hockey player is having a dynamic warm up and making sure the body is ready for play.  For a figure skater they need a dynamic warm up and stretching as well.  Both athletes will greatly benefit from core strengthening, a cool down and post workout/game stretching.  

            The post workout/game cool down and stretching are the most important and most often skipped.  The athlete is tired and wants to go home, but by missing this essential aspect of a practice could leave them at an increased risk for injury.  If the body is not properly allowed to return to rest, the athlete may suffer from tight muscles, which may result in a soft tissue damage injury.  The small amount of time it takes to cool down and stretch is much less than the time they may spend sitting out to rehab an injury. Parents and coaches need to stress the importance of off ice conditioning.

            Off ice conditioning can include running, hopping, agility drills, and the most important, core strengthening.  Figure skaters and hockey players will benefit from core strengthening.  Hockey players spend a good deal of time sitting in a slouched position on the bench and in a hunched position while skating.  Incorporating core strengthening can help reduce the risk of low back pain for hockey players. Figure skaters need to have a strong core as well as it is the source of power for jumping and to have a solid landing when completing jumps.  If they break at the core they run the risk of falling and having other injuries.

            While our athletes are out there on the ice working hard and pushing themselves, make sure they are staying a well-balanced athlete and keeping the essentials in their routine.  A strong core, a dynamic warm up and stretching and a good post workout cool down will help our on ice athletes stay injury free.


References:

http://physical-therapy.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/Taking-PT-for-Figure-Skaters-Beyond-The-Rink.aspx

http://www.apta.org/Media/Releases/Consumer/2009/5/12/

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