Bodychecking in youth hockey associated with increased risk of injury

Bodychecking in youth hockey leagues in Canada, the US and Finland is associated with an increased risk of injury to players, a study led by York University has found. 

The study, which is a systematic review of published research from the three countries, appears in the March issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. It found that bodychecking, a defensive tactic that is designed to legally separate another player from the puck, was often cited as a leading cause of injuries, across age levels and divisions of play in youth hockey leagues in all three countries.  

The international review of research confirms the main finding of a York-led study from three years ago – namely, that bodychecking is hazardous to young hockey players, says Alison Macpherson, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science at York. 

Right: Alison Macpherson

"Nineteen of the 20 studies we looked at this time showed an increased risk of injuries when bodychecking was permitted and some of these injuries were very serious," says Macpherson. "We reviewed nine studies from Canada, nine from the US and two from Finland. And the findings from all but one support recommendations that children should play in non-contact hockey leagues until they are at least at the bantam level – 13 years of age."

Macpherson led the Canadian study published in 2006, working with co-author Dr. Andrew Howard, a staff pediatric orthopedic surgeon and administrative director of the Trauma Program at The Hospital for Sick Children. They worked together again on the review of international research, along with first author Joel Warsh (BSc Hons. ’07) and Serban Constantin (BSc Hons. ’07), both York students at the time of the study.

Some of the studies from Canada, the US and Finland included leagues with players up to age 20, but the worst injuries were in young players.

"Fractures were the most common injuries, with most of the fractures occurring to those in checking leagues," says Howard. "Hockey is a high-energy sport and this creates a potential for fractures, which prevent return to play for a very long time, or in rare cases are disabling. Equally important is the risk for concussion, with repeat or even single concussions causing loss of educational and workplace performance relative to one’s peers."

Warsh, who has coached minor hockey, says children clearly love hockey, whether or not bodychecking is allowed. However, there is no need to put children into situations with an increased risk of injury, he says, and by removing bodychecking from the younger groups, the spike in injuries related to checking is likely to be reduced.