Keeping Your Hockey Player Healthy

Bradley Dunlap, MD
Sports Medicine, NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute

The hockey season is long – many times starting in August and running through late spring. With out of town tournaments and early/ late ice times, it can be a challenge to keep your player healthy and performing at their best. Injuries may be an unavoidable part of the game, but luckily, there are things that we can do to minimize them.

Prioritizing Sleep
With limited ice availability, many players will find themselves on the ice as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 10:30 p.m. Time for sleep can also compete with homework, video games and other activities. But making sleep a priority is an important part of keeping your athlete healthy. Not only is there research that your player will perform better with the proper amount and quality of sleep, there are some studies that suggest inadequate sleep can lead to an increase in injuries. While the proper number of hours will vary by age and individual, eight hours each night should be a minimum, and in many cases, that number should be higher.

Proper Nutrition and Hydration
Fueling the body appropriately can help your player perform at a high level. It can also help them avoid muscle cramps and dehydration that can lead to more significant injuries. Space out meals around ice time to avoid exercising on a full stomach. Hydration is also key before, during and after skating – every player should bring a water bottle with them to the rink so they can have quick access to water as often as possible. Though there are many sports beverages on the market, water is sufficient in most cases. Chocolate milk is a good post-exercise recovery drink, as it has a good carbohydrate to protein ratio that will help get your player ready for the next skate.

The Right Fit
Kids and adolescents are growing constantly, and while buying new skates can be a yearly ritual, making sure the rest of their equipment fits properly is essential to keeping them safe. Shin guards or pants that are too small can open up the legs to get hit with pucks or sticks. Ill-fitting gloves and elbow pads can expose the forearms and wrists. And of course, the helmet and facemask should fit properly and have a current HECC certification. Properly fitting equipment and facemask is also paramount for goaltenders.

Playing on an additional tournament team in July is probably not going to make or break your child’s hockey future. USA Hockey has long been a supporter of cross-training and reducing single sport specialization at young ages. Research has shown that playing multiple sports not only reduces the risk of injury, but it can also help avoid burn-out. It will also likely improve your child’s overall athletic skill development, which will ultimately make them a better hockey player.

Sign Up for A Step aHead

12U/Pee Wee aged players and older (the test is not valid for younger players) should sign up for the free baseline cognitive testing offered through the Athletico website. Hopefully your child will not experience a concussion this season, but if they do, this baseline test will help your physician or provider know when it’s safe for your player to get back on the ice. The test is good for two seasons, so if your player took it last year, then he or she is ready for this season and should resume testing next year.

Dr. Dunlap is a Sports Medicine Orthopaedic Surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute. He is a former college hockey player, coach and has served as a team physician with USA Hockey.

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