Body checking in youth ice hockey is allowed in some American leagues, but the practice is controversial. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. finds that Canadian youth hockey leagues that allow body checking have a threefold increase of all game-related injuries compared to those that don't allow the practice.
The study, released today, compared 74 Canadian Pee-Wee teams of 11- and 12-year-olds (1,108 players) from Alberta to 76 Pee-Wee teams from Quebec (1,046). Alberta allows body checking for that age group, while Quebec does not. Body checking is a common hockey move in which the body is used to knock or slam an opponent against the ice or the rink boards. The move is not supposed to be done irresponsibly.
After examining the players' injuries for one season, they found that the Alberta players had 241 injuries, including 78 concussions. The Quebec teams had 91 injuries, including 23 concussions. There were no differences between the teams when it came to injuries suffered during practice.
Risk factors for injury and concussion included having suffered previous injuries and concussions, being smaller, and higher levels of play. Breaking down the injuries to body parts affected, Alberta players had more injuries to the head or face, followed by knee and shoulder or clavicle. Quebec players also had injuries most frequently to the head, face and knee, followed by the hip or thigh.
Body checking in youth hockey is introduced in U.S. leagues for 11- and 12-year-olds, but some leagues do not permit body checking. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2007 (that was reaffirmed in 2010) on safety in youth hockey that included this recommendation: "Body checking should not be allowed in youth hockey for children age 15 years or younger."
And while other studies have shown body checking to produce substantial injuries, a study in 2005 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that for youth hockey players, accidental collisions and falling into the boards produced more injuries than body checking.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo: Body checking in ice hockey may lead to serious injuries. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times