Illegal 'Body Checking' in Ice Hockey Can Cause Serious Injuries
Two studies of boys' teams showed that each season up to 21 injuries occur
for every 100 players, with a fourfold increase during tournaments. The
researchers defined injury as trauma lasting more than a day, laceration,
concussion, or broken teeth. Experts say that many of these injuries can be
prevented through strict enforcement of the rules for amateurs.
"Ice hockey is a great sport when it's played by the rules," says
Roberts, an associate clinical professor of family medicine at the University
of Minnesota. "But in the last two decades, we're seeing more heavy hitting
causing injury to the head and neck. During the '70s, cervical [neck] spine
injuries and concussions were rare, and now they're a fixture of the
Injuries to the cervical spine often prove disastrous. "The cervical
area of the spine, located in the neck, sends messages from the brain
throughout the body," says Susan Bergman, MD, a spinal chord specialist and
associate clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at Boston University.
"Crush injuries in this area can affect not only breathing and movement but
bowel, bladder, and sexual function as well." Even more alarming, equipment
does not always protect against serious injury.
Roberts, a sports medicine specialist and former amateur hockey player,
tells WebMD, "Helmets don't provide 100% protection against concussions.
And when repeated over time, concussions can cause serious cognitive
problems." And the effects of concussion are cumulative, according to Peter
Black, MD, chief of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor
of neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Repeated concussion
is likely to impact memory and attention span. That's why the Harvard football
team has set a limit of three. But even one can be too many." Roberts says
it's time for officials to enforce the rules more strictly.
"It's especially important to penalize body checks from behind, which
are linked to neck fractures," says Roberts. "Another approach is to
simply ban checking altogether, as is done with girls. The girls have far fewer
injuries and are still exciting to watch because they focus on puck handling
In a more recent study, injury was reduced fivefold during portions of a
junior tournament when teams were rewarded for good behavior with extra points
in the standings. The support of parents and coaches is critical to help reduce
rough play. "They need to reassure kids that their skills won't be limited,
but their injuries will," Roberts tells WebMD. "And the few that do
reach professional status will learn the art of the body check in short