The Weekend Hockey Player
The Weekend Hockey Player
As a native born Canadian, I grew up watching, cheering, and
occasionally participating in hockey (I was terrible but two of my sisters were
great, and still play). We see all these articles about herniated discs and athletes,
but what of those who only dream of the NHL?
First of all let’s talk about what a herniated disc is. The
disc is the “shock absorber” between the vertebrae of the spine. They have a
tough “rubbery” outer covering and the interior is the consistency of crabmeat.
They have a fair amount of water in them that decreases as we age. This causes
“disc degeneration”. Smoking, obesity and un-natural “wear and tear” on the
spine can speed up the degeneration which makes the discs much more likely to
herniate. A symptomatic herniation is when a piece of the disc comes out of
the hard outer covering and pushes up against the spinal cord or a nerve root.
Anyone who has watched a game of hockey, especially the NHL,
can see you have to be young, in great shape and talented, to play it well. Any
hockey trainer worth their salt knows that constant conditioning, core training
and resting the injured, are all necessities. Hockey players, themselves, hardly
ever agree with the last one. They are playing with blood dripping down their
faces, broken bones, concussions and herniated discs. They are the toughest of
athletes and are often marketed as such. “Sitting out” is unacceptable and the
elite can often play three periods with an injury that would hospitalize the rest
of us. Because of their youth and conditioning, most players recover quickly
from injury and are likely playing again in a few games.
But what of the week-end players? This is often the only
exercise they get all week, and these people work for a living, not train 3-5
hours a day. We’ve all seen the “gentlemen’s league” participants with an extra
twenty pounds around the middle and a “good knee” and a “bad knee” instead of
right and left. These are the people that end up in an orthopedic office with a
neck or, most often, back injury.
Most of the injuries are strains and sprains but there will
often be, that hit, that fall, or that twist, leading to a herniated disc. The
original symptom will probably be back pain, but the one that will stay with
you will be pain radiating into the buttock, leg and foot on one side or the
other. There may be some numbness and tingling with this but if there is any
sign of bowel or bladder control issues, foot drop or paralysis, an emergency
room visit is a must. This could be a sign of “cauda equina” syndrome or a disc
pressing straight back into the spinal cord and usually needs emergency surgery
to remove the herniated disc.
For the other patients with a herniated disc, time is your
friend. 95% of these injuries get better with conservative care and do not
require surgery. Conservative care does not mean lying in bed. It means
stretching, walking, ant-inflammatories and ice or heat (not rink ice; you are
out of there until you are better). It can take up to 3 months for the disc to
heal and you want it to heal so there is no re-herniation.
If you are a “weekend warrior”, or live with one, please
encourage, or practice, prevention over cure. Stretching, conditioning and, most
of all, core strengthening are important to avoid having to be out of your sport
for several months. Hopefully you can continue to play as long as you can tie
- Miwa S, Yokogawa A, Kobayashi T, Nishimura T, Igarashi K, Inatani H, Tsuchiya H. Risk factors of recurrent lumbar disk herniation: a single center study and review of the literature. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2015 Jun;28(5):E265-9. PubMed PMID: 23249886
- Schroeder GD, McCarthy KJ, Micev AJ, Terry MA, Hsu WK. Performance-based outcomes after nonoperative treatment, discectomy, and/or fusion for a lumbar disc herniation in National Hockey League athletes. Am J Sports Med. 2013 Nov;41(11):2604-8. PubMed PMID: 23956134
Last modified: December 11, 2020