What stretch should you do when you get injured?

One of the most common questions I get from goalies goes like this, “I pulled my groin yesterday – what stretch should I do to make it better?”  or “I have a pain in my back what stretch should I do to fix it?”

Maybe there is a stretch that will fix it, but maybe not!  Maybe it does not need a stretch at all, maybe it needs more strength and stability.  Maybe the pain in your back is actually coming from your tight hip or your old shoulder injury.  Maybe your hamstring strain is a function of poor core stability.  You need to get help from an experienced sport physiotherapist to establish the underlying cause of the injury, then you can follow a targeted step-by-step path to loosen the tight structures if necessary and strengthen the weak structures if necessary.

Now let’s assume for a second that this is an acute injury – a player ran you down, the players knee smashed into the top of your thigh and you have a big contusion there.  This is not one of those injuries with an insidious onset or where you made a move and felt it go, but you can pinpoint the exact cause of the injury – that forward’s knee.  Now what stretch should you do?

The first thing you should do is ice the area, I am a huge fan of getting ice on injuries right away.  Ice for 10-minutes, resist the temptation to turn this into some sort of suffer test by seeing how long you can stand having ice on your leg for; 10-minutes will suffice.  The body’s response to icing is to shunt blood away from the area to maintain the core temperature of the body.  If this goes on for a while the brain then starts to think – hmmmmm, if we keep shunting blood away from this area, it may freeze – better send more blood back to that area to warm it up.  This is not our goal with icing, so let’s go with 10-minutes.

Do not reapply ice until the skin is once again warm to the touch.  After icing, you may perform some very gentle stretching if you have a pain free range of motion.  If all stretching is painful, then do not continue trying to stretch.  It is not helping, it is just irritating tissue that is already damaged.    You might need to give it a few days before you can begin gentle stretching.  As the pain in the area subsides over time, make sure you continue working on the mobility of that area – your goal is to get it back to the same range as the uninjured side.

For example if we are talking about a contusion to the quadriceps in the front of the thigh, you will stretch the area by bending the knee as you take the heel of one foot back toward your butt.   If you can get your heel all the way to your butt on the uninjured side, then your goal on the injured side is to do the same over time.

All too often you see a hockey player who thinks the injury is all better when it does not hurt anymore, they return to play lacking full range of motion which can then go on to create a whole different issue and injury down the road.

As always, remember if an injury is not getting better, or getting worse over time, you need to get it checked out by a qualified professional.  On that note, my colleague Rick Kaselj has come up with a great product to help you get a better understanding of how injuries occur.  Here is what I will do – I will put together a little review of Muscle Imbalances Revealed and sent it out in the next day or two so you can decide if it might help you.  Stay tuned.