Suffering an injury on the field is a risk you take each time you lace up your field hockey cleats. You’ve been sidelined for a while, but you’re now on the mend. Even though your cast hasn’t come off, can you still get back into the game?
It’s not a good idea to play hockey with a cast. You could reinjure yourself, erasing all your healing progress. Plus, in most field hockey rulebooks, the use of a cast is considered dangerous equipment and is thus barred from play.
In today’s article, we’ll talk further about why playing hockey with a cast is a bad idea and how long you should wait to resume play. We’ll also provide tips for preventing future injuries, so keep reading!
Why You Shouldn’t Play Hockey with a Cast
Once you get your wrist or arm put in a cast, the road to healing is only just beginning. You can be patient at first. After all, there’s a certain novelty to wearing a cast when all your friends and hockey teammates want to sign it.
As the weeks go on though, that novelty wears off. More and more, you begin to feel the itch to play hockey again. You’re not in that much pain, so you figure what can it hurt, right?
Playing hockey in a cast can do a lot more harm than good. Here are some very convincing reasons to refrain from playing until you’re completely healed.
The Risk of Reinjury Is Too High
We’ll talk more in the next two sections about hockey injuries and their respective recovery times, but most injuries require you to take a good amount of time off.
You could spend months healing your injury in a cast, then decide to play hockey before your doctor takes the cast off. If an errant puck or ball hits you in the cast, the cast could shatter.
Casts are hardy with fiberglass or plaster construction, but they’re not designed for rough-and-tumble activities. A broken cast will require you to stop playing, which is the opposite of what you want.
Plus, you could have further damaged a healing fracture or tear. You’ll have to visit the doctor to get a new cast anyway, and while you’re there, they’ll look you over.
After your doctor assesses your injury, they might tell you that you’ll have to begin the healing process all over since you worsened your injury. Now your recovery time could be doubled or tripled to what it once was.
Although this is heartbreaking news, resetting your recovery is the best-case scenario. In more serious instances, you can cause so severe an injury that you might not be able to play hockey again.
Your Cast Could Be Classed as Dangerous Equipment
Hockey rulebook USA Hockey lays out the rules of playing hockey in a cast in Section 3, Rule 305 – Dangerous Equipment.
Per Rule 305, “…The wearing of casts or splints made of hard or unyielding materials is prohibited, even if padded, unless directed in writing by a licensed medical physician.”
In other words, you must get a doctor to approve your request of playing hockey again while still in a cast. That’s not going to be easy to do. Your doctor will want you to fully recover before they give you the greenlight to get back on the field.
Without that approval, going into a hockey game wearing a cast would get you either penalized or thrown out. Your team is now down one player. You might have thought you were helping your team by coming back to action early, but you’re doing just the opposite.
Let’s say you did get a doctor’s permission to wear your cast during a hockey game. Even then, Rule 305 still requires you to follow some specific rules.
Here are the terms: “Such casts or splints must be covered on all exterior surfaces with no less than ½ inch thick, high-density, closed-cell polyurethane or an alternate material of the same maximum thickness and similar physical properties to protect an injury.”
You Won’t Play Your Best
Do you remember when you first started playing hockey? You could barely transition the stick between your left and right hand let alone flick or make a pass. Trying to play hockey with a cast will feel like fumbling in those early days all over again.
Wearing an arm or wrist cast majorly reduces your flexibility, and that’s something you very much need when playing hockey. Your whole approach to the game will have to change.
You won’t play as well as any other players on your team or the opposing team who aren’t wearing casts. You’ll just hinder your team.
What Are the Most Common Hockey Injuries?
Like any sport, hockey can be quite deleterious. Here are some of the injuries you could sustain when you play this game.
When the bone in your upper arm pops out of place, you’ve dislocated your shoulder.
If you’re an overzealous player who puts too much of their upper body into making slapshots or passes, you could dislocate your shoulder that way. Physical impacts from other players can also cause shoulder dislocations, as can poor form as a hockey player.
Strained muscles are overworked and fatigued. Although a muscle strain isn’t a serious hockey injury, a strain can still be very painful. Treating muscle strain usually entails rest, heat, ice, and maybe some NSAIDs to dull the pain.
MCL Tear or Strain
The MCL is short for the medial collateral ligament, which is a knee joint ligament. If you take too many hockey balls or pucks to the lower half, then you can strain your MCL. By continuing to play hockey with a damaged MCL, it could stretch too thin and eventually tear.
MCL tears may be partial or complete, and the latter is much more serious.
Although hockey players wear protective head equipment, concussions can still happen. The symptoms of a concussion include forgetfulness, feeling and looking dazed, slurred speech, feeling hazy, noise and light sensitivity, balance issues, vomiting and nausea, and head pressure or pain.
Concussions are incredibly serious injuries, as suffering multiple concussions could alter your brain structure.
If a hockey puck or ball hits you just right, you could break your collarbone. Being smacked with an errant stick can also lead to breakage here. It’s not like a doctor can put a cast on your collarbone, but a sling might be able to help.
ACL Tear or Strain
Your anterior cruciate ligament or ACL is another knee joint, this time nearer the center of your knee. Like the MCL can become strained and eventually tear, the same can be true of the ACL.
How Long Should You Take a Break from Hockey with an Injury?
You just had an appointment with your doctor, and they diagnosed you with one or more of the above injuries. How long are you going to have to take a break from hockey?
That’s up to your doctor to decide, but we can give you some general timelines here.
Shoulder dislocations are usually treated with slings and require 12 to 16 weeks of healing. You will likely have to miss the entire hockey season.
As we mentioned, muscle strain isn’t serious. At the very least, you could be back in the game the week after your injury. If your muscle strain is more severe, then you might miss a month or two of play.
MCL and ACL strains require the same amount of time to heal. However, if these ligaments tear, you might need a few months off. In some cases, these injuries necessitate surgery, especially if you tear the ligament completely. Then you’d be looking at a recovery time of nine to 12 months.
Despite the severity of concussions, if you take the time to treat yours immediately, you could resume playing hockey in as little as a week.
Broken bones, such as collarbones, might need 10 or 12 weeks to heal completely.
Tips for Preventing Hockey Injuries
You can only control what you do when playing hockey, not your teammates or opponents. That’s why the game will never be completely risk-free. That said, you can minimize your chances of injury by following these tips.
Stretch Before Playing
Physical activity is best done with limber muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Whether you’re exercising at the gym, training on the field, or playing your biggest hockey game yet, get into the habit of stretching ahead of time. You won’t feel stiff, and that can benefit your playing!
Wear Protective Equipment
The laundry list of protective hockey equipment your coach requires is for your own good. Please ensure that your equipment is high-quality, sized properly, and worn correctly. Don’t take off hockey equipment when on the field for any reason.
Set up an Exercise Program
With your doctor, you should formulate an exercise program that works for your weight and health. You might spend 30 minutes on aerobic exercises like the elliptical, riding a bike, or running. You can also do medicine ball tosses and twists as well as single-leg squats to strengthen your lower half. You’d repeat this routine several times per week.
Don’t Ignore Nagging Pain
Pain isn’t always indicative of an injury, but rather, weakness somewhere in the body. By toughing it out and pretending you don’t feel it, all you’re doing is making that affected area feel even worse.
Remember, what starts as an ACL or MCL strain can become a torn ligament through continued playing. That can be a difference between taking a few weeks off to missing the rest of the season.
When you’re in pain, see a doctor or physical therapist. Even if your source of pain is ultimately very minor, you’ll be glad you went!
Don’t Push Yourself to Burnout
It doesn’t matter what kind of sport you play. You shouldn’t be training and practicing every single day. You must take time off to rest your body. These periods of inactivity allow your muscles to recover.
Recover from what, you ask? Exercising and playing hockey causes very small tears in the muscle tissue. This is normal and can even help build muscle. Yet the more you keep pushing yourself, the larger those muscle tears become, and that’s how you end up with nagging pain or an injury.
No member of your hockey team plays every single day, so you shouldn’t either!
If you have a hockey injury that requires a cast, don’t try to push through and play anyway. Your cast could break, which can worsen your injury. Plus, hockey rules prohibit the use of casts on the field unless with written permission from a doctor.
The best way to handle an injury is to take the requisite time off, rest, undergo physical therapy if your doctor suggests it, and then slowly ease your way back into playing hockey. Make sure you start stretching before every game too!