The cliché in bad TV sitcoms or comedy movies (50 percent of which seem to involve Adam Sandler) goes something like this: a bunch of middle-age guys attempt to play a pickup game of fill-in-the-blank sport, and one of them immediately pulls a hamstring or throws out his back.
These scenes are the byproduct of unimaginative writers … but they also have a basis in reality. Every cliché, after all, has a measure of truth.
For adult league hockey players, injuries can be common – and a common fear. But they also can be avoided, says Sean Cromarty, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado College and currently the owner of Competitive Advantage Training – which has a specific program designed for training hockey players and helping them avoid injuries.
Cromarty outlines the five most common hockey injuries and offered tips on how to avoid them, starting with the head and working down the body:
Concussion: This is an all-too-common hockey injury, and one that leads not only to time away from the sport but also everyday cognitive problems. As such, the more players can do to reduce concussion risk, the better.
“Playing with your head up, being aware of where you are on the ice are important,” Cromarty says. “Some things about brain injuries you can’t control, but you can do a lot of work to make sure your neck is strong and you won’t have the whiplash effect.”
Separated shoulder: This is another very common hockey injury, and whether it’s from giving a hit, taking a hit in the corner, incidental contact, or shooting and then falling down awkwardly, a separated shoulder is painful – but avoidable.
Cromarty recommends basic strength exercises like military presses and holding a pushup position to build key areas of shoulder strength.
“It’s all about the stability of the joint,” he says.
Lower back strain: This is a naturally susceptible injury area as we age because many of us gain weight as the years go by. Those pounds – which many skaters are trying to work off as a side benefit of playing hockey – don’t just slow us down. They can hurt us.
“As you gain more weight and have posture issues, you put yourself at a disadvantage where you might strain your back more,” Cromarty says.
Cromarty hurt his back playing at Colorado College, so it can even happen to the youngest and fittest among us. He recommends lifting dumbbells and kettlebells to build back strength.
“You’re staying away from loading the spine,” he says. “Load the body, but don’t load the spine.”
Hip strain/groin pull: Cromarty groups these into the same area because dead lifts, squats and plank exercises – in addition to proper stretching – can make a big difference in helping avoid injuries in both areas.
“You’re rushing in and on the ice for a late game. You might not stretch and do all the stuff they should to get ready,” Cromarty says. “You’ll see more guys that have those types of soft tissue injuries – pulls, strains.”
Hamstring pull: And yes, hockey players are not immune to this movie cliché injury as well. Cromarty again recommends proper stretching and the right warmup to keep players away from this nagging injury.
“Hockey is a contact-impact sport with a lot of changes in direction,” he says.
If you’ve already injured one of those areas in the past, it’s important to both rehab properly and understand ways to avoid further injury, Cromarty says.
“Before you really get back into training, playing or lifting again, you need some corrective exercise,” he says. “You see a lot of people exercising incorrectly. Those faulty patterns are going to cause you to re-injure yourself. You want to have the greatest range of motion possible.”
And if you have been lucky enough to avoid serious injuries up to this point, it’s still important to take care of your body.
“You have to remember when you’re lifting and working out on your own, are you doing it to look good at the beach or to be a better men’s league player?” Cromarty says. “Train for your sport. Be sport specific, even if you’re an adult.”