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Illegal 'Body Checking' in Ice Hockey Can Cause Serious Injuries

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Nov. 30, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Studies show that up to 88% of all amateur-level ice hockey injuries are the result of reckless or illegal collisions, according to a commentary in the November issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine. As a result, author William Roberts, MD, recommends that all "body checking" be banned at the amateur level. The Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine has taken a similar position.(Atlanta) -- Studies show that up to 88% of all amateur-level ice hockey injuries are the result of reckless or illegal collisions, according to a commentary in the November issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine. As a result, author William Roberts, MD, recommends that all "body checking" be banned at the amateur level. The Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine has taken a similar position.

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 game."

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.

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