The Surrey Eagles are taking a proactive approach to injury prevention this season.
The entire 22-man preseason hockey squad was evaluated by pedorthists Matt Deeter and Darryl Bueckert from White Rock Footcare Centre. The foot and lower body specialists later did follow-ups with players who needed a more thorough evaluation and then prepared a report for the coaching staff.
"The whole point of what we're trying to do with this screening is identify the players that are most at risk for overuse injuries or misuse injuries that won't really start rearing their ugly heads until halfway down the season or in the post-season," said Deeter, owner of White Rock Footcare.
The process is common among pro athletes and those headed for the Olympics. Deeter wants to see it become standard for younger athletes, too, and even weekend warriors who may not fully appreciate the difference proper support can make to one's performance and safety, including the type of shoe used.
"The one thing we did see that we didn't expect to see was the (number) of players who were wearing barefoot-style shoes to do all their training in," said Deeter.
"The problem is the shoe was never designed to be worn all the time. It's designed to be a cross-training type shoe so you would wear it at most maybe 50 per cent of your workouts."
Because of this, Bueckert, the "shoe guru" at White Rock Footcare, wrote a special section in the report on this type of shoe, its history and proper use. When used properly, a barefoot-style shoe can be a surprisingly good training tool, but few people know how to use them properly.
"I don't think the average person realizes how big an influence the shoes can have in one direction or the other," said Deeter.
The biomechanics evaluation included a state-of-the-art video movement analysis and other testing methods.
"The biggest surprise was that there were probably half a dozen guys on the team who are already dealing with small overuse injuries: two knee issues, two lower back issues, one shin splint. One guy, his feet were already sore after doing the walking and running on the treadmill for five minutes or so - and none of these guys wore orthotics, not even off-the-shelf supports in their shoes."
Some of the issues uncovered were relatively minor, such as with defenceman Craig Wyszomirski. During the evaluation, he said he often had an ache in one arch and heel, and occasional lower back pain - but nothing severe enough to complain about.
Deeter told him he had a minor bone length difference in his legs. "It affects your power on one side."
And the muscles of one leg were tighter than the other. This is quite common and often causes the imbalance, which in turn causes the pain.
Wyszomirski said it was unexpected news. "I was definitely surprised," he said. "It actually explains a lot."
Deeter pointed out that tiredness after physical exertion is normal; pain is not.
Deeter said their approach is collaborative, so now that the team has the report in hand, the next steps are for the athletic trainer and physiotherapist to work with the guys to address muscle imbalances.
After that, the pedorthists will work with players who still need other supports such as knee braces.
Some things, like an anatomical leg length difference caused by a broken bone that then doesn't grow at the same rate, for example, will require a different response, depending on the individual's unique body.
Eagles coach Matt Erhart was enthusiastic about the process.
"For us as coaches, it's great," he said. "If it can enhance performance and gives injury prevention, or if they find issues where guys are weak, they can go to the gym and know exactly what to work on to correct it.
"At the end of the day, it can help performance and help prevent injuries," Erhart said. "Any little thing that can help us get a leg up on the competition is huge." email@example.com