A new study suggests concussion rates in youth hockey are in line with the injury risk associated with other high-contact sports, though many of the injuries may be the result of illegal moves on the ice.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, show that youth hockey players experienced approximately 1.6 concussions for every 1,000 minutes of participation time, equaling one brain injury for about every 10 hours of play time.
The younger players in the study, between the ages of 12 and 14-years-old, were more than twice as likely to experience concussions compared to the older group of teens aged 15 to 18. Lead author Anthony Kontos, a concussion researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, suggests the discrepancy may be due to larger size, speed, and strength disparities among younger athletes, as well as less familiarity with techniques that could lead to injury such as checking or defensive hits.
Kontos told Reuters that one way to make the sport safer for young brains is for hockey leagues to focus on “better enforcement of existing penalties for illegal hits – especially those from behind when players are less able to protect themselves.”
For the study, Kontos and colleagues reviewed data from nearly 400 young hockey players in western Pennsylvania, Boston, and Birmingham, Alabama, over the course of two consecutive seasons running from 2012 to 2014.
The researchers specifically looked at concussion rates per minute of athletic exposure (AE), which includes competitions or practices with the potential for injury.
Throughout the study, 37 medically diagnosed concussions were recorded during a total of more than 23,000 minutes of participation, making for an injury rate of 1.58 concussions per 1,000 AEs. Concussions were more than twice as likely to occur during games, which had an injury rate of 2.49 per 1,000 AEs, compared to 1.04 per 1,000 AEs.
The concussion rate for the players aged 2 to 14 was 2.84 per 1,000 AEs, compared with 1.18 for athletes between the ages of 15 and 18.
The researchers acknowledge a few limitations of the study including its small size and the fact it only covers three communities and may not be representative of all youth leagues. However, they believe the findings can help inform new policies to reduce injuries among young athletes.