What is mobility?
Mobility is the range of motion possible at a given joint in isolation or a combination of joints in sequence. For example, a test such as a knee-to-wall assessment determines the dorsiflexion range of motion possible (mobility) at the ankle joint. Equally, a Thomas Test can be used to determine the mobility of the anterior hip.
It is important as it can have a preventative impact on injury occurrence, as well as improving performance. In a sport requiring deep positions of flexion, in asymmetrical shapes, and involving rotation, it is more important than most that we have adequate ranges of motion to get into effective and safe positions on the field.
The reasons why mobility training is important for field hockey are...
1) It helps to prevent injury!
Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to suffer from that niggly lower back pain?
In one study, 53% of field hockey players reported having experienced back pain at some point in their career (Reilly and Heaton, 1990). Having said that, other studies have demonstrated a similar rate of lower back pain in female D3 hockey players to non-hockey players. Even still, 56% of respondents reported having experienced back pain, with the typical age of onset at around 16 years old (Haydt et al., 2012). So over half of the respondents in two studies experienced this problem.
If this is the problem then mobility training can provide the solution by helping you to improve your range of motion, and improve rates of lower back pain.
In one study, female hockey players experiencing lower back pain had between 18-24 degrees less total lumbosacral (lower back) total range of motion than pain-free and control group athletes (Fenety and Kumar, 1992). This would suggest a link between how much range we can cope with and the incidence of back pain.
It’s important to note that some of this research was completed a while ago, and the game of hockey has moved on significantly since. However, the principle remains the same - improved mobility can have a positive effect on the incidence of lower back pain in hockey players.
Furthermore, there are other common injuries in field hockey that we may be able to offset through improved range of motion at key joints.
In a study of 158 high school, university, and national level female field hockey players, over half of all injuries reported were in the lower limb, and over half of those were ankle sprains! That means that in total 34% of all reported injuries were ankle sprains (Murtaugh, 2001).
Approximately 85% of all ankle sprains occur from an inversion mechanism and damage to the lateral ankle ligaments (Baumhauer, 1995).
Where does mobility come into this? Well, the amount of dorsiflexion (toes to shin) range of motion possible at the ankle joint has been linked to lower limb injuries (Tabrezi et al., 2020), and limitations in dorsiflexion may predispose athletes to the reoccurrence of ankle sprains (Hertel et al., 2002).
Therefore, mobility has been linked to improved clinical outcomes in two of the most common injuries occurring in field hockey - lower back pain and ankle sprains.
2) We can train it to improve and compare with normative values
By comparing with established norms, we can see whether hockey players are meeting these, or whether there is a physical limitation to their performance. By improving this, we may be able to improve outcomes.
In a study of 104 Dutch male hockey players playing across the top three leagues at ‘elite’, ‘sub-elite’ and ‘amateur’ levels, normative values were determined for this demographic (Beddows et al, 2020).
The table below is taken from this paper, and outlines the internal rotation, external rotation and bent knee fall out (BKFO) assessment norms established.
Interestingly, age did not have a relevant clinical effect on hip ROM. This allows us to use the reported values in male hockey players regardless of age, playing position, leg dominance, playing level, or history of groin pain (non-time loss).
Established norms for ankle range of motion using the knee to wall assessment are between 0 and 16.5 degrees (non weight-bearing) and 7.1 to 34.7 degrees (weight-bearing) (Baggett and Young, 1993). As already mentioned, this is an important measure for hockey players as it is a risk factor for ankle sprains, the most common injury occurring in the sport.
So on top of being able to reduce injury incidence, we can also measure and track certain mobility scores to determine whether there are discrepancies that may contribute to overall injury risk potential. Very helpful!
3) We can get into more effective positions
As hockey requires players to get into, out of, and remain in low positions, there is a high demand on joints and tissues in deep positions of flexion. As has already been outlined, this is one reason why injuries such as lower back pain can occur in the sport.
If we can increase range of motion at the ankle, hip and thoracic/lumbar spine, we are more able to get into low positions to effectively defend, compete and win the ball. Not only that, but the better our positions the less likely we are to concede free hits when the ball hits a foot, and we can get into effective goal-scoring positions too.
Whether you are a goalkeeper, defender of forward mobility is important as everyone needs to get low at some point in the game. If we can combine speed, strength and aerobic fitness with great mobility we increase our performance potential and better our chances of winning the game!
Mobility can be completed as a standalone session, or as part of the movement prep sequence (click there to read more about this). A lot of mobility exercises take their inspiration from yoga, as the emphasis is on movement quality, flow and range.
Here are a list of great options that you can use in your mobility routine:
Lunge and rotation
Single leg arabesque
Lunge and reach
World’s greatest stretch!
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Baggett BD, Young G. Ankle joint dorsiflexion. Establishment of a normal range. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 1993 May;83(5):251-4. doi: 10.7547/87507315-83-5-251. PMID: 8135911.
Baumhauer JF, Alosa DM, Renstrom AF, Trevino S, Beynnon B. A prospective study of ankle injury risk factors. Am J Sports Med. 1995;23(5):564–570.
Beddows TPA, van Klij P, Agricola R, Tak IJR, Piscaer T, Verhaar JAN, Weir A. Normal values for hip muscle strength and range of motion in elite, sub-elite and amateur male field hockey players. Phys Ther Sport. 2020 Nov;46:169-176. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2020.08.014. Epub 2020 Sep 4. PMID: 32957033.
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Haydt, Richard & Pheasant, Steven & Lawrence, Kevin. (2012). The incidence of low back pain in NCAA division III female field hockey players. International journal of sports physical therapy. 7. 296-305.
Hertel J. Functional anatomy, pathomechanics, and pathophysiology of lateral ankle instability. J Athl Train. 2002;37(4):364–375
Murtaugh K. Injury patterns among female field hockey players. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Feb;33(2):201-7. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200102000-00005. PMID: 11224806.
Reilly T, Seaton A. Physiological strain unique to field hockey. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1990 Jun;30(2):142-6. PMID: 2402133.
Tabrizi P, McIntyre WM, Quesnel MB, Howard AW. Limited dorsiflexion predisposes to injuries of the ankle in children. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2000;82(8):1103–1106