Getting Back On The Ice After Injury

 Getting Back On The Ice After Injury

Injuries are a part of most sports.  I challenge you to find a hockey player who played a long career at a fairly high level who was never injured.  Some (many) injuries are preventable through proper training, but others are unavoidable such as getting sandwiched into the boards by the other teams 220lbs bubba and separating your shoulder.

Other than duck, there is not a lot you can do to avoid that one.

So let’s say you are recovering from an injury and it is time to start thinking about getting back on the ice.  How do you do that as effectively and efficiently as possible?

Step One: Listen to your physio.

Hopefully if the injury has kept you off the ice, you have sough the advice of a good sport physio…and FOLLOWED that advice.

Do what they tell you to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I cannot tell you how many athletes I saw when I worked at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic who set themselves back days to weeks because it was feeling pretty good so they ‘just went out to test it on the ice…in a scrimmage’.  You get the idea.

The Fairytale Of Accelerated Healing

There is a fallacy out there that we can accelerate the body’s rate of healing by using a certain supplement, by breathing pure oxygen or by doing certain exercises.  The truth is, we can only provide an optimum environment for healing so the body can heal at its natural pace.

And one of the best ways to inhibit that healing is by repeatedly ‘testing’ the tissues to see if it hurts.  Let it heal!

Step Two: Get active as soon as possible.

You can be active before you get back on the ice.  Just because your shoulder is sore, that doesn’t mean you cannot be on the stationary bike doing your energy system training.

But I thought the bike was bad for hockey players?

You are right, it is not my ‘go-to’ mode of training, but hustling around doing agility drills with a separated shoulder will probably not do great things for your healing, whereas sitting on the bike can be done in your sling with minimal jostling.

That’s what we call a win-win my friend.

Step Three: Range of motion comes first.

Get that joint moving; ideally in a pain free range.  There may be times when your physio says it is okay to push the range a little bit into discomfort, but that is on a case-by-case basis, so as a rule of thumb, especially in the early healing phase, work on mobility in a pain free range.

Step Four: Get the dexterity and stabilization back.

For a shoulder injury this will mean doing ‘Figure 8’ patterns, rotator cuff strengthening and maybe something like the body blade or eyes closed stabilization against perturbation.

For an ankle injury it will mean balancing on one foot, then doing the same with the eyes closed.  It will mean doing ‘Ankle Alphabets’ and resisted inversion and eversion.

This is the proverbial crawl before you walk.

Step Five: Add in some skill work off the ice.

This is where you can start some stick handling and/or light shooting off the ice.

Step Six: Add some resistance to the stabilization.

For the shoulder this could be a standing cable press; progressing the load as it remains pain free.  That may progress to two hand catching and passing a light medicine ball, progressing to single hand catching and passing at gradually higher speeds and force application.

Step Seven: Start putting it all together.

You can start working on some agility work for your energy system development.  Progressively adding an element of read and react to the drills, then adding complexity to to the tasks such as following an agility pattern while catching and passing a medicine ball.

If a player is performing complex tasks like this without compensation, then they are getting very close.

Step Eight. Limited practice.

The limitations will depend on the injury.  If it is an ankle injury, it might just be skating on your own for 15-minutes to start and then progressing to some skating drills at half speed, then stick handling and skating drills, then full speed non-contact drills, then full practice, then scrimmage.

You will not progress through all these stages in one practice.  This will take time.

Step Nine. Game time.

When a player can participate in full practice without pain or compensation, they are ready to return to play as long as they feel confident in their stage of recovery.  All athletes are different; some feel good to go very quickly whereas others are more hesitant.

If it means taking an extra day or two of practice to get that confidence back, then take it.

So there are your steps to get back on the ice after injury.  I know some of you are thinking – but pros play hurt.  “I remember Gilmore playing with a broken leg!”

Yes, pros do play hurt – it is a little bit different, they are getting paid thousands (in some cases millions) to be out there.  It is their job and there are times when they have to get out there and go to work.  Most of you are not in that boat, so work with your physio, take the steps and use your best judgment to get back on the ice quickly and safely.

Happy training and have a safe return to play!


PS – I put together a three video series on training for young (10-13 year old) hockey players that you can get for free HERE – the principles work for both goalies and skaters, the videos explain why.