Spine Health and Hockey Players: a Perfect Team
How One Chiropractor Supports Hockey Players from Pewees to the Pros
When you live in “The State of Hockey,” it’s common to see children comfortable in skates after they can walk. When those children start playing hockey, one thing quickly comes to mind for parents—safety. While hockey equipment covers up most a player’s body, no sport is without the possibility of injuries. Spine health and hockey players are closely linked. Chiropractors can be important members of the care team when injuries do happen.
Dr. Kerry Johnson, DC, chiropractor at the Sweere Clinic at Northwestern Health Sciences University, has decades of experience treating athletes. Prior to the pandemic, he was providing care to nearly a dozen Minnesota Wild players every other week. He provides ongoing care for National Hockey League (NHL) players. Some even fly in to see him or make an appointment when they’re playing locally. He’s given his son adjustments throughout his youth hockey career and is a certified chiropractic sports physician.
Dr. Johnson specializes in the NUCCA technique, using imaging of the head and neck before providing treatment.
“Basically, what I do is a light force, highly sophisticated accurate correction of the relationship between the head, top vertebra, and cervical spine,” Dr. Johnson said. “I work to bring them into position to help balance spinal posture and alignment.”
It makes sense that Dr. Johnson’s work is highly effective for a sport that requires balance. Being checked hard or falling and crashing into the boards can cause a myriad of injuries. This is why spine health and hockey players are a perfect team.
Could your concussion be an upper neck injury?
Concussions are a valid concern in any sport, but Dr. Johnson warns parents and coaches not to immediately assume a concussion when a player hits their head.
“The definition of a concussion 20 years ago included a loss of consciousness,” Dr. Johnson explained. “Now they define concussions in healthcare and injury care based on a list of symptoms—light sensitivity, blurry vision, dizziness—there are probably a dozen symptoms. If you have two or three of these, you’re going to be diagnosed with a concussion.”
What can be initially diagnosed as a concussion can actually be an upper neck injury, as the symptoms look similar. That’s why getting imaging and having someone on your care team who’s experienced in upper neck and head injuries is important. Dr. Johnson has seen athletes who’ve presented concussion symptoms. He had them back to playing within a week because of an initial concussion misdiagnosis.
Even if there is a concussion, Dr. Johnson players (and their parents) not to ignore their necks.
“I believe that if you’re talking about youth hockey, the single number one thing is that if your kid goes head first into the boards—since you cannot have a head injury without an upper neck injury—that you need to get that kid checked because it could be a game-changer for their life,” Dr. Johnson said.
How can hockey players benefit from chiropractic treatments?
Concussions and other injuries treatment aside, an important factor in the success of a hockey player is accuracy in both shooting and passing the puck. Despite years of practice, a player’s shooting accuracy can be affected by upper neck problems because it affects hand-eye coordination.
“Proprioception is 100% of our brain-to-body awareness,” Dr. Johnson said. “My brain knows exactly where my arm is through every motion when I’m throwing a football. With hockey, you have a six-foot-long stick with a paddle on the end of it and then you have to take the puck and fire it 30 feet, and into the air, and hit the upper corner of the net.”
That sequence can be traced back to hand-eye coordination. The primary centers of balance and control are in our upper neck. Dr. Johnson notes that the joints in the top of the neck contain more proprioceptors than the other joins in the body combined, meaning that the brain likes to know the position of the head in relation to the upper spine. When that’s out of balance, your hand-eye coordination is impaired.
Make chiropractic care an important part of the routine of keeping your hockey players healthy and who knows, maybe Dr. Johnson will be seeing your player after they’ve made it into an NHL lineup.