Dealing with a GAA Epidemic: Hip Injuries

Hands up if you know a GAA player who has had a season ending hip injury or if you have had one yourself. Yip, I thought so.

Hip injuries in the GAA are sweeping through the country with merciless ruthlessness, and leaving medics, players, and managers scratching their heads in frustration. How did it happen, why did it happen, and how the hell do I get rid of this debilitating hip pain?!

I am not a physio or a doctor, but I have dealt with a long standing hip issue myself to the extend that it no longer exists, and I have dealt with enough GAA players with similar problems to be able to identify common traits in those who end up with a long standing groin/ hip issue. It would be nice to think of your hip injury as an injury that was caused by a one off event, and can be similarly fixed with a one off treatment or intervention. However, if you have had your injury for a long period already, you probably know that this is not going to be the case. Even if you remember the very moment that your hip decided that it has had enough for the foreseeable future, the likelihood is that that last sprint or jump was simply the straw that broke the camels back.

This not so hip hip problem has been blamed on everything from over-training, to the shape of the studs on our boots, and hearing about hip operations is nearly a daily part of the GAA players life. 

Based on my experience as a player, and a strength and conditioning coach, here are some musings about hip pain, its cause, and the cure.

Musing #1: Our Posture Is Poor

We sit all day, we drive the car, and we slouch on the sofa. All common habits of the western citizen these days. The effect this has on how your body performs and deals with the massive forces exerted on it during training sessions and matches cannot be underestimated. Tight hip flexors, rounded shoulders, and an anterior pelvic tilt can do untold damage to the hip when you start sprinting for the ball.

Musing #2: There is not enough Emphasis on Recovery

The demands of the games we play are increasing year on year. More commitment, tougher training, and faster, stronger players. Fitting the pretty full time schedule of a contact sport player around the daily grind of a 9-5 job means that time is of the essence. However, let this be a call out to all GAA players. If you want to train at a high level, you must take responsibility for your own recovery sessions. The vast majority of teams train 2/3 times per week and have a game at the weekend, but wont include a recovery session. If you are serious, then take personal responsibility for your own recovery on the days that you do not train with your team. Enlist the help of a professional and get a personal recovery routine on the go for after games and tough sessions. On a similar note, avoid playing/ training with a sore hip. It can only go one way, and you don’t want to be on the injury scrapheap!

Musing #3: We macho GAA Players have massive ego’s in the gym

In the Irish times article cited earlier, Cork Football Physiotherapist Colin Lane mentioned the massive forces going through the hips when back squatting heavy. The biggest problem in the GAA is that we keep trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when it comes to strength and conditioning training. Unless you can squat with PERFECT FORM, then that exercise is not suited for you. That goes for ALL exercises. If you are not 100% sure you are performing it perfectly then don’t do it. In my experience, a GAA player who can squat with perfect form is maybe 1 in 15 or 20, due in large to the point raised in Musing#1. Lets drop the egos and train smart.  That doesn’t mean you don’t train hard, but you do need to select the right exercises and variations to suit your current capabilities. A capable strength and conditioning coach is key here too.

Musing #4: Most treatments deal with the symptoms of the problem as opposed to the source.

By the time you have unfortunately discovered you have a nasty hip injury, you are probably talking to a hip specialist, who is looking at your hip with a magnifying glass. Its great to have expert professionals at hand to diagnose the injury and deal with the pain associated with it and also any structural damage that has occurred. However, what is often missed the fact that this hip injury is probably the result of long standing movement issues that have eventually come to a head in the form of a tissue breakdown. By all means deal with the symptoms, but if you fail to deal with the cause of the symptoms, then you can start the clock to the next occurrence. I have yet to see somebody with a hip injury who has flawless movement patterns in the basic human movements. Restrictions are usually abundant, and we are only kidding ourselves if we thing that getting rid of the pain is the same as addressing the issues that caused the pain in the first place.

Musing #5: We need a better understanding of the mobility and stability requirements to perform basic movement patterns correctly.

This leads on from Musing #3 nicely. We need to think globally as well as acutely when it comes to dealing with hip pain. Understand that a restriction in the ankles or in the shoulders could be what’s causing you to walk or run in a way that’s putting excess forces on the hips. We need to work to develop mobility in the joints that require mobility (ankles, hips, shoulders, thoracic spine, wrists), and develop stability in joints that need to be stable such as the knees, and the lumbar region. All players do not suffer from the same restrictions, so it’s important to be able to spot the restrictions and train accordingly to resolve the issues.

Musing #6: Proper training is injury prevention, rehab, and performance improvement all wrapped into one.

If you have a hip injury, what you do not need is a finite ‘hip rehab program’ that has a beginning and an end, and then you can go on about your merry way without a second thought about the once crippling injury that kept you out for so long. Consider these facts.

  1. The biggest predictor of injury is previous injury. That means that if you have injured an area, then that will be the most likely site of the next injury you will get.
  2. We have established that your hip injury is probably the result of long standing poor movement patterns. This means you need to work consistently and for the rest of your playing days on maintaining good movement patterns to avoid re-injuring the site.
  3. If you were training correctly in the first place, you probably would not have picked up the hip injury. Going back to what you were doing before you got injured is not an option when returning to play. Unless you are insane and want a reoccurrence. In this instance, go back to the same training program you were doing when you got injured.

Proper training is the right mix of sports specific training, strength/ power development, fitness work, and mobility work. The result of this type of training means that you are fresh, fit, and ready to go each time you take to the field. This will lead to long lasting enjoyment of our national games, and reduce the likelihood of picking up any more nasty injuries and go a long way to dealing with the hip injury epidemic!

This Article is By Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS