Study shows body checking hazardous to young hockey players

Body checking should not be allowed in ice hockey for boys under the age of 14 because of the risk of serious injury, according to a study by York University and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

The study’s lead author  Dr. Alison Macpherson (right), an epidemiologist in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science, and co-author Dr. Andrew Howard, staff orthopaedic surgeon, co-director of the Trauma Program and scientist at SickKids, analyzed 4,736 hockey injuries in Ontario and Quebec from 1995 to 2002. Their study titled, “Body Checking Rules and Childhood Injuries in Ice Hockey”, appears in the February 2006 issue of Pediatrics.

“We looked at children who were seen in hospital emergency departments and we found that at ages 10 to 13, children were almost twice as likely to have a checking-related injury in Ontario, where checking was allowed, than in Quebec, where it was not allowed,” said Macpherson. “They were also more likely to suffer a concussion or a fracture where checking was allowed.”

The study found that, for Atom and Pee Wee players, almost half of the hockey-related injuries in jurisdictions where body checking was allowed were related to checking. The study also found that it isn’t true that children who learn to body check earlier will have fewer injuries in later years. In fact, players in Ontario over the age of 14 – who had learned body checking early – were significantly more likely to have checking injuries than players in Quebec.

Macpherson and Howard do not want to discourage children from playing hockey, which they regard as a fun, healthy activity for children. However, they want to reduce the number of injuries tied to body checking – a defensive tactic in which a player extends his body toward an opponent to try to separate him from the puck.

“Hockey is supposed to be fun. Kids shouldn’t end up in hospital,” said Howard, who is also a professor of surgery and health policy, management & evaluation at the University of Toronto. “We’re seeing young boys come into emergency wards with fractures and concussions – significant injuries that can take weeks to heal.”

Macpherson and Howard decided to study the injury figures related to body checking after the Ontario Hockey Association began a five-year pilot project to allow body checking at ages 10 and 11.

Other members of the research team included Linda Rothman, injury control research coordinator from SickKids. The data in the study were provided by the Canadian Hospitals Injury by the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program. The research was supported by the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program at SickKids and SickKids Foundation.