Tightness, fatigue, pain and weakness in your low back are all symptoms I have heard all too often throughout the hockey community. “I tried to loosen my back but as the tightness and pain became worse and I had to stop playing.” If you are a recreational player, high school or college player, weekend warrior or even a professional athlete, low back pain is a constant occurrence among players. As in many skating or running athletes, your back becomes tight due to repetition, poor warm up, poor stretching and poor strengthening techniques.
Common sense is the first thing that needs to come to mind when dealing with low back injuries. Hockey is a dynamic rotation, cutting, sprinting, and pivoting sport and if you are not prepared for its demands you will sustain an injury. The low back muscles usually will get tight based on your hamstring, gluteal and IT band tightness which is common in all skating athletes. As soon as one of these structures become tight, your pelvis becomes immobile, this causes your para spinal muscles to work harder for the demand of the sport of hockey. Then, with tightness in your muscles you rotate and hit the puck across the ice and the pain becomes unbearable and you feel as if you will drop to the floor.
Some easy common sense concepts go a long way. First, as with all skating athletes you need to participate in a full body flexibility program. Before practice or games I recommend that you warm up at least 10 minutes or when you begin to perspire. At this point you should stretch the large group muscles for 3 repetitions for 10 to 15 seconds each. Make sure to focus on your hamstring, low back and gluteal stretches. Participate in either your game or practice followed by a cool down and then stretch again. At this point you should hold your stretches for at least 25-30 seconds. On your days off you should warm up at least 1 time daily and stretch. This will maintain good flexibility which will ultimately decrease injuries. It is also recommended if you participate regularly in sports you should maintain a good strengthening program pre and post season. While you are in season, hockey athletes should be on a strengthening maintenance program at least 3 times a week. Your strengthening program should include a good core development program designed for the hockey athlete. This strengthening program will insure good biomechanical posture control. Good postural control will keep the pelvis in a neutral position which will decrease low back symptoms in the hockey player. It is also recommended as with all athletes, you keep the body hydrated efficiently with water or sports drinks. A muscle becomes fatigued more quickly if it is not hydrated and can go into spasm much easier.
In summary, to maintain a healthy back while playing hockey it is important to maintain flexibility of the glutes, back and hamstrings.