Carleton University biomedical engineering student Alicia Gal of Ottawa, Ontario is currently in the process of doing revolutionary research in sledge hockey. Specifically, she is studying the biomechanics of sledge hockey in an attempt to improve the sport when it comes to performance enhancement, player safety and equipment design.
Gal uses force plates, electromyography (technique that captures electrical activity in the muscles) and motion capture to graph the biomechanics of sledge skating. She also uses markers that look like tiny disco balls and infrared cameras with reflective markers which track the athletes’ motions. “You can really bring performance analysis into sport specific environments, like into the ice,” explains Gal in an interview for the Independent Sports News. “That is really hard to do.”
Gal admits there are challenges in using technology so close to the ice surface. She realizes she is a pioneer in sledge hockey research and that other scientists will start using her work to study the biomechanics of sledge hockey further.
So why sledge hockey? Gal, who is able bodied, got interested in the sport when a friend of hers broke his neck. She introduced him to a sledge hockey coach, and soon realized there was an opportunity to do research about the sport that had never been done before.
Gal acknowledges that all sledge hockey players skate differently. She has also studied able-bodied sledge hockey players who have never played sledge hockey before, and compared them to expert,high-performance sledge hockey players. “We were able to see where those gaps are and where we can start to close (them),” explains Gal.
“Normally when one starts sledge hockey, they are coming out of rehabilitation or haven’t done very much physical activity and they are trying to get more physical activity back in their life. “They are not very strong and experienced atrophy.”
Gal also hopes that her research will get more people interested in sledge hockey as a participant.“If you are not very good at skating, stickhandling is super hard and shooting causes you to use your left and right side, then there are a lot of things that could be a downer for the sport,” states Gal, who believes her research could make it easier for players who are coming on to the ice for the first time in a sledge and who are also trying to learn about the intricacies of the sport in order to perform at the highest level possible. Gal believes if players generate more success as an early participant, they have a
greater chance of having more confidence and staying in the sport longer.
Gal’s major focus at the moment, when it comes to her doctorate, is safety. Through her research to date, Gal has been able to conclude “by improving performance we should be able to decrease injury because of the way the stick hits the ground. What we found from the people who haven’t done it before is that most of them pulled themselves across the ice. Mathematically and mechanically, it is easier to push something.”
Gal studies how players put the stick down and the angle to their chest when they initiate the stroke.The more advanced sledge hockey players have more balance in the sledge and so their arms are able to be more forward. As a result, the stick has more of a forward angle to it.
“If we can tweak something as small as that and making sure that the arm is open and the stick goes down in the right angle, then you’ve taken a huge leap forward in the stroking pattern for someone who knows nothing about it,” states Gal. “By doing that, you get less impact and reaction forces up into the shoulder. We try to improve performance so it reduces injury, but the real takeaway is that we are going to try and minimize the potential of injury from the foundation or fundamental component to the sport.”
The sledge hockey players’ shoulders concerns Gal. “When athletes sit down and bodycheck, the most prominent point to the body are the shoulders,”
explains Gal. “Not only are they getting impact forces and trauma to the shoulders from repeated skating, then there is a bodycheck here and there that adds some more damage to the shoulders. I am trying to improve the quality of life of people who are confined to using their shoulders within their daily living.”
Gal is extremely pleased that Hockey Canada has shown some interest in her research.
“It is definitely meaningful,” claims Gal. “The fact that they have wanted to continue their interest in injury study is awesome.” Gal’s scientific work may benefit high performance sledge hockey skaters, but her long term goals are to assist all sledge hockey players including those at the community level. There is no doubt that the sport of sledge hockey can benefit as a whole due to Gal’s interesting biomedical studies!
Watch this YouTube Video for more info