Like millions of other kids, Mike Silva started playing hockey when he was just a preschooler. Since then, the Vancouver lawyer has rarely missed a practice or a game, lacing up his skates at all hours of the day or night every month of the year. But he was forced to take a hiatus this past spring when he was hit from behind by a guy the size of a Hummer and did a face plant into the boards.
“Nothing hit [the boards] but my teeth,” Silva tells theGeorgia Straight in a phone interview. “I knew right away it was bad, because there were all these pieces of my teeth all over the ice.
“First I thought: ”˜My wife is going to kill me,’ ” he says. “Then I thought: ”˜This is going to be expensive.’”
Silva now flashes a $15,000 smile that would make the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith proud, with two falsies and three caps. The experience hit Silva hard, and not just physically and financially.
“For a while there, I was done with hockey. I had to miss work; I really thought that was enough. I was pretty upset when it happened. But I don’t think that lasted very long.”
Silva, a father of one, is now back to playing twice a week—with a full face cage—in one of Metro Vancouver’s adult leagues, affectionately known as beer leagues. Generally noncontact—or at least billed as such—the casual games don’t usually see the kind of injuries that are getting headlines these days: think of the 30-plus concussions the National Hockey League has recorded this month alone.
But those who play for fun are still prone to injury, given the sport’s inherent speed and force.
Vancouver sports physiotherapist Zenya Kasubuchi, who used to play junior hockey and is an avid member of an adult league himself, says that the most common injuries he sees are groin pulls (muscle strain in the inner thigh, or adductor, muscles), torn muscles in the knees and shoulders, and back strain. Such problems commonly result from rapid acceleration and deceleration; sudden, powerful changes in movement; and fatigue. (Injuries are more common at the end of a period or game.) Overuse injuries are common too.
“Often, people are inadequately prepared before a game or before the season,” Kasubuchi says on the line from the Plaza of Nations location of the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, where he works. “Players that don’t participate in sport-specific drills in the off-season are at risk. Preseason, people should take part in a good strengthening program, paying attention to keeping the adductor muscles in balance with the abductors [the muscles of the outer thigh]”¦.Symmetry in the body is a factor: if you’re tight on one side, it definitely puts you at risk.”
Core conditioning—especially doing exercises that focus on the transversus abdominis, the deepest layer of muscle in the abdomen—is crucial, adds Kasubuchi, who teaches a workshop called Hockey Fit and who volunteered with the medical team for men’s ice hockey during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Core stability also reduces back pain and increases a player’s peripheral power. Flexibility also helps prevent injury. Pregame stretches should only be held for 10 to 15 seconds; afterward, the stretches should be held longer, for at least 30 seconds.
Warming up before a game is a must. Kasubuchi recommends doing up to five minutes of light activity in full uniform before even hitting the ice, then, once on the ice, doing dynamic and sport-specific movements while building up speed gradually.
Kasubuchi also urges that players not only use Canadian Standards Association–approved safety equipment, such as mouth guards and face shields, visors, or cages, but also that everything be properly fitted.
For those who are serious about their game, the sports-medicine centre offers the “functional movement screen”, which helps identify areas of weakness in the body that put athletes at risk for injury. The goal is to create individualized and corrective exercise programs to help normalize and improve a person’s movements.
Richard Cleland, a Vancouver chiropractor and amateur hockey player, says it’s common for people who get hurt on the ice to have a preexisting condition off the ice.
“Usually, there’s something else going on,” the owner of Synergy Chiropractic and Physical Therapy says in a phone interview. “The most common hockey-related injuries I see are shoulder injuries, low-back and pelvis injuries, and muscle strain. Usually people are out of balance to begin with”¦.And if their body is out of balance, they won’t be ready for the level of stress that hockey places on their body.”
Cleland, who treats injuries with a range of neuromuscular and cranial therapies, recommends that players also do balance exercises, which both require and improve core strength.
Forwards are most likely to sustain injury, followed by defence players then goalies, according to the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit. There are four times as many reported injuries in contact versus noncontact leagues, with the body check being one of the most commonly reported causes of both soft tissue and severe trauma injures, followed by contact with a hockey stick.