I was watching the Dallas Stars play the Calgary Flames tonight and my eyes drifted to the news ticker at the bottom. I saw that yet another NHL player was out with a bum hip. I have some pretty unique hip issues from playing hockey so I wanted to see how many other pros are dealing with the same thing this season. This is a short google search:
Jaromir Jagr, Kris Versteeg, Jeff Zatkoff, Jonathan Quick, Joonas Korpisalo, Tyler Ennis, Hudson Fasching, Blake Comeau
Jason Dickinson, Ales Hemsky, Thomas Vanek, Andrew Ference, Luke Opilka, Jared Cowen, Aaron Rome
This was one of the shortest searches I could do, but I did go to page two. I put Aaron Rome in italics because he’s the reason I wanted to talk about this. He’s been out for a couple of seasons and he’s the first name that pops up when you search “NHL hip injury.” Aaron Rome played for the Dallas Stars towards the end of his career and in 2014 had to leave a game versus the St. Louis Blues because he threw a hip check that put him out of order. That was the beginning of the end for him, and now his lawyers assert that the hit was “career ending.” He is now suing the NHL and his insurance company because he is no longer able to play. It’s all in the hips.
So why the emphasis on hockey players’ hips? I just turned 30 and I already have osteoarthritis in my right hip.It started slowly as inflexibility from hockey and was reinforced by weight training. Hip pain sucks, and I’ve only recently started to experience some relief, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Hockey players, specifically, suffer hip injuries at a much higher rate than does the rest of the sporting population (except the NFL). A 2011 study of NCAA Division 1 and Professional hockey players found that 77% of them had hip and groin MRI’s that were indicative of pathology even if they were experiencing zero symptoms. Another published study that looked at younger players found high incidences of hip angles that were correlated with labral tears and cartilage damage in the joint. 93% of the midget hockey players that participated had hip angles greater than 55° — again, indicative of labral tears and cartilage damage. Midgets are 16-18 years old. The news is better for the 13-15 year olds, only 63% of them are at risk. The 10-12 year olds are better yet at 37%.
Higher hip angles leads to an increased chance of forming bony over growths as a result of compression. They call it Femoral Acetabular Impingement and it sucks. Imagine a ball and socket joint, but instead of being nice and smooth, the ball has an asymmetrical lump on it. Sometimes this causes pain, sometimes it doesn’t. Before moving on, I’ll mention that the study also said that this problem is often misdiagnosed as a hip or groin strain. How many NHL players on that list above are dealing with hip or groin pain? Trick question, all of them.
Remember the problem is called Femoral Acetabular Impingement. The first two words just mean hip joint, Latin just sounds cooler. Impingement means “to strike or dash especially with a sharp collision,” which is a pretty vivid way of getting the point across. Collision, or rapidly coming together, should not be happening in a joint that is meant to be relatively friction-less. How do we fix that?
Add space. You have to add space.
The pelvis has multiple axes that move synergistically with every motion. It rotates in a number of directions with a given movement. Repeat a movement long enough and your body gets strong for that movement. If you don’t work to de-train that movement, your body can get more and more frozen in that position. The muscles that are meant to move around and with one another become a unit of glued-together, poorly functioning muscles. Since hockey players rarely or never quit, they just work around these imbalances and further reinforce them.
Enough about the problem though, I’m a solutions guy. Back to the space.
Foam rolling crushes a space (squish a sponge), bad stretching compresses a space (wring a towel), but ELDOA and myofascial stretching for the hips and pelvis can open the space and pull water back into the crushed, spongy joint space, or normalize and hydrate that tightly wrung muscle. There are several NHL players from several different teams that currently swear by these exercises, which I can say with certainty is the only reason the above list isn’t longer.
Coaches used to tell me to stretch and I can remember laughing them off, and doing it half-heartedly when I did. For a while, I thought I was the exception, but the research is starting to show that I’m a little bit closer to the rule. Since rules rarely change, I know youth hockey players rarely stretch.
The only way to stop FAI is to keep the joint space open and normalized, and the only way to do that is with a properly written exercise program that includes ELDOA, myofascial stretching, and segmental strengthening.
Waiting will only make the condition worse, so call me to get started today (281) 803-9930.
My good friend Dan Hellman, of Hellman Holistic Health in Ft. Lauderdale, has put out a video on why you should NOT foam roll. It’s an hour long, but well worth the watch. You can find it here.