Field hockey presents numerous opportunities for injuries due to the fast-paced, repetitive actions of the sport and the use of a long, hard stick and equally hardball. A high proportion of these injuries can be prevented by ensuring the correct protective equipment is worn.
Protective equipment and clothing
In order to prevent injuries from sticks and the ball, all hockey players now wear shin pads and gum shields (mouth guards). Although gum shields can prevent damage to the mouth and teeth when the ball is lifted, other facial injuries can occur, including fractures to the cheekbones. Other protective equipment sometimes worn includes a glove on the left hand. This was developed once play on astroturf became the norm as stopping the ball with a reverse stick can cause abrasions on the knuckles of the left hand. In recent years defenders have also begun wearing face masks when defending penalty corners.
Footwear should also be considered. Often teams at a local level will play on a mixture of grass and artificial surfaces, meaning that ideally different footwear should be worn for each surface. Grass will usually require the use of studded football boots to provide adequate grip and prevent injuries through slipping over. This kind of boot cannot, however, be worn on artificial surfaces.
The goalkeeper wears considerably more protective clothing than the outfield players. This includes a helmet with a face guard, chest pad, leg pads, gloves, and boots.
Warm-ups should not be overlooked in any sport as they can be a vital and effective part of injury prevention when performed correctly. A warm-up should consist of a pulse raiser activity, usually jogging, to get the heart rate up and warm the muscles. This should last for approximately 10 minutes and should be followed by active stretches to improve muscle elasticity (such as heel to bum and carioca exercises). Static stretches can also be performed if required. A warm-up should then finish with skill drills to promote motor control and coordination, including dribbling, pushing and shooting practices. In total, a warm-up should last around 20 minutes.
As with all sports, the athlete must be fit for the game in hand. This includes cardiovascular fitness, which will enable your heart, lungs and circulatory system to provide enough oxygen to the working muscles to maintain a high level of work for long periods and to recover quickly during rest periods. You must also possess the muscle strength and endurance required to produce repeated contractions over this same period. All of this should be achieved through regular training, which is specific to the sport. Pre-season conditioning is also important, as research has shown that more injuries occur in the first part of a season, indicating that players are not fit enough following an off-season break.
Common Field Hockey Injuries
A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in hockey, other sports and day-to-day life alike. A sprain is a tear or complete rupture of a ligament, and in the case of the ankle, the most commonly injured ligament is the anterior talofibular ligament. This ligament lies on the outside of the joint and is injured when the player rolls the ankle so that the sole of the foot faces inwards. Read more in-depth information about ankle sprains.
Damage to the cartilage within the knee joint occurs most often due to a twisting force being applied to the knee when the foot is firmly planted on the ground. This occurs when trying to change direction quickly in dodging an opponent. The cartilage which is damaged is in the form of two rings which sit on top of the shin bone (tibia), within the knee joint, one medially and one laterally. Learn more about cartilage injuries.
The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament, which sits deep within the knee joint and is vital in providing stability to the knee joint. The ACL is commonly injured in non-contact sports just as frequently as contact sports. The usual mechanism involves a twisting motion at the knee. The player will feel immediate severe pain, which may fade quickly, followed by substantial swelling and a feeling of instability. Find more information about ACL injuries.
A hamstring strain or pulled hamstring is a common injury across all sports. The usual mechanism of a hamstring injury is during a short burst of speed when running. The hamstrings are placed under most strain whilst they act to decelerate the forward movement of the lower leg. Learn more about hamstring strains.
The groin or adductor muscles are commonly injured in fast-paced sports requiring sudden changes of direction. The action of the groin muscles is to bring the leg towards the centre and across in front of the body. The muscles are most commonly injured when they are stretched and the leg is taken away from the centre of the body. Read more information about groin strains.
A contusion occurs as a result of a direct impact to a muscle, most commonly the thigh muscles as a result of being hit with the ball or a wayward stick. This compresses the muscle against the underlying bone causing muscular damage and bleeding. This is sometimes also known as a dead leg due to the feeling it can produce. There will usually be extensive bruising. Find out more about contusions.
Injuries to the face do happen, usually as a result of an illegally lifted ball or a stick raised too high. Cuts and bruising occur most frequently, although fractures to the jaw, cheek, and nose are not uncommon. Find out more about facial injuries.