Taking Back Pain Out of Canada’s Game

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Ice hockey is a big part of my life. I cannot imagine my life without it. I’m grateful to have grown-up playing minor hockey in Vaughn from Novice to the Ontario Junior Hockey League level. Fast forward to today, I get to help young players at all levels become the best they can be as a coach in the community. Yep, life’s a bowl of pucks for folks like me. Exciting as ice hockey may be, as a chiropractor I can say with certainty that ice hockey is one of the roughest sports in the world. From body checking to getting taken out along the boards or simply falling hard on ice – there can be a lot of pain associated with Canada’s game. So with the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs well underway and youth hockey leagues running into the summer, it’s time to address ways to put a stick in back pain for good. Lower back pain & herniated disk injuries can be prevented with proper stretching & strength work. Most back related injuries in ice hockey occur in the lumbar, lower or spinal region due in large part to the forward-leaning posture and repetitive extension of the lower spine when players skate at various speeds. Rotational stresses and excessive loading on the lumbar disks can also happen when a player gathers speed on the ice, takes a shot with the puck or falls awkwardly to the ice after being hit by an opposing player. The best way to reduce the chances of such injuries occurring is through extensive stretching & strengthening the hip flexors, hamstrings, and low back, abdominal and gluteal muscles before hitting the ice. Stopping the risk of cervical fractures before the puck drops. Without question the most serious ice hockey oriented back injuries are those affecting one’s neck or the cervical vertebrae. Any player whose head hits the wall at a high rate of speed with his neck fully flexed can experience a cervical fracture, causing severe trauma to the spinal cord. Thereby, putting him or her at risk for paralysis from the neck down. Hitting from behind is viewed as ice hockey’s cardinal sin like never before. The good news is that the occurrence of spinal cord injuries in across all levels of ice hockey is extremely rare, and seems to be decreasing by the minute due to stiffer penalties, better awareness and protective efforts like the STOP program (involving a bright red STOP sign being stitched into the back of every young player’s jersey to remind opposing team members not to hit from behind). Stay protected, don’t stick your neck out and put more into the core. By taking the proper safety measures like wearing the best equipment, strengthening core and neck muscles every hockey player lowers their risk of back injuries. My challenge to the hockey community: lets keep moving back injury prevention knowledge forwards (not backwards) because when it comes to 21st century healthcare we all heal together.

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