February 21, 2006

Hockey body checking increases injury risk in kids

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Ice hockey players younger than
high school age may not be ready for the game's hard knocks,
according to Canadian researchers.

Their study of nearly 5,000 boys in youth hockey leagues
found that injury rates were higher among children on teams
where "body checking" was allowed as early as age 10. Broken
bones and concussions were among the risks.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, add to
the debate over when to begin teaching young hockey players how
to body check.

Body checking refers to legal moves in which hockey players
knock into an opponent to get the puck. Medical groups such as
the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that body checking
be barred for players 15 years old or younger.

Others argue, however, that it's best to teach children how
to check properly starting at an early age. This, they say,
could prevent serious injuries later on, when teenage players
are much bigger and stronger.

The Canadian Hockey Association allows body checking to be
introduced at age 12, and in one province -- Ontario -- a pilot
project was launched to teach the tactic to 10- and
11-year-olds in certain competitive leagues.

The investigators, led by Dr. Alison Macpherson of York
University in Toronto, compared injury rates among boys in
these Ontario leagues with those of boys in Quebec leagues,
where checking is limited to players age 14 and older.

Between 1995 and 2002, the researchers found, 63 percent of
injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms occurred in the
Ontario teams. Boys on these teams were nearly twice as likely
to suffer a checking-related injury as those in the Quebec

The children on Ontario teams also had higher risks of bone
fractures and concussions, which, though not always related to
checking, were more common in leagues that allowed body checks
at age 10.

"On the basis of our results, we suggest that children
should play hockey only in noncontact leagues until at least
the age of 14," Dr. Macpherson's group recommends of York
University in Toronto.

"In our opinion, it's better if better if body checking is
introduced later," she told Reuters Health.

The study, Macpherson said, found no support for the notion
that it's safer for children to learn checking when their
bodies are smaller. Among players age 14 and up, who all
practiced checking, those in early-checking leagues still had
nearly twice the risk of suffering a checking injury.

The findings are based on government data collected from
pediatric emergency departments in Quebec and Ontario. Between
1995 and 2002, the hospitals reported 4,736 hockey-related
injuries among boys ages 10 to 15.

On teams where checking was allowed, 10- to 13-year-olds
were 86 percent more likely to suffer a checking-related injury
than their peers on teams that limited the practice to older
players. They were also 42 percent more likely to sustain a
concussion and 25 percent more likely to suffer a broken bone.

Hockey Canada, the national governing body for amateur
hockey, currently has several pilot projects in place to
research the effects of teaching body checking to players as
young as 9.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, February 2006.