I want to explore something that I think affects most hockey players in midget and above…without them even being aware: Femeroacetabular Impingement (FAI). Check out what may be affecting your skating as well as your off-ice movement patterns.
First, I’d like to mention that I am nowhere near an expert in this, and that orthopaedic surgeons will spend years of medical school to know this syndrome intimately. But I would like to explore a little bit about FAI, what it means for hockey players, and a few ways that you might be able to treat it with some gentle stretches.
What you need to know about FAI is that it is when the ball and socket joint of the hip does not match up perfectly. When they do not fit perfectly, the bone from the femur can pinch or come in contact with acetabulum (of the pelvis). This can cause a pinching or tightness sensation in the front of the hip when the hip is flexed (knee is brought to the chest). Generally, the best way to aggravate FAI is by internally rotating the leg and flexing the hip (think of a hockey goalie in the butterfly position).
That is sort of how I happened across FAI: my roommate is a goalie who required hip surgery for FAI. At first I shied away from even trying to figure out what it was because it grossed me out. Then, when my other roommate complained of his hips being tight while squatting to parallel depth. I also realized that my left hip had a bit of a pinching sensation when I put it into extreme flexion. So, I did a bit of digging, and came across some stretches to “treat” FAI. (I’ll explain the “…” in a bit)
What I discovered was that by doing these stretches that included a resistive elastic band around the hip, both my squatting roommate and I had greater hip range of motion with no pinching sensation. We also had greater control over our squatting movement. The stretches are the first two shown on the video that I will post next called “Hip Mobility”.
So does this mean that I effectively treated FAI? I don’t think so. FAI is something that requires surgical intervention, as was the case with my goalie roommate. In his case, he also had a labral tear, which had to be repaired at the same time. But when it came to my squatting roommate and I, I think the problem was less to do with impingement, but rather to do with compression in the joint capsule.
Remember that we were not designed to sit for long periods of time. However, especially at school, sitting for long periods of time is required. I submit that sitting for long periods of time, plus being in a hip flexed position while skating, may compress parts of the joint capsule. Again, note that I am woefully ignorant of the physiology of joints and joint capsules. But after a bit of wikiresearch, I’m hypothesizing that when the joint is in a position for a long time, it can make unnatural adaptations such as compression or inflammation of the joint capsule. So by attempting to “stretch” the hip musculature, we may actually be compressing the joint capsule further or exacerbating the inflammation in the joint.
The solution (assuming my hypotheses are correct), is to stretch the hip in a way that creates space in the hip joint capsule. The exercises shown the “Hip Mobility” video show how that might be possible. If the symptoms of “FAI” subsides with these stretches, it may help athletes gain greater depth, control and symmetry in their squatting movement. For a hockey player, this means that they can get lower in their stance, while maintaining hip control, and generating more power.
To conclude, I am going to amend my position that most hockey players are suffering from and unaware of FAI. Instead, I submit that many hockey players are suffering from compression or inflammation in the joint capsule, which blocks normal range of motion, leading to FAI-like symptoms. Using the stretches that I outline in my next video, I believe that many hockey players can improve their health hip range of motion.