Competing views of checking in hockey

August 4, 2010

accident, regulation

A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that body checking causes fewer injuries than run-of-the-mill accidents in ice hockey.

The results of the University of Buffalo study showed that unintentional contacts accounted for 66.0% of overall injuries compared with 34.0% from intentional contacts and that serious injury such as fractures, dislocations and concussions resulted more often from such unintentional collisions.

The findings were based on a five-year study of approximately 3000 boys aged 4-18 years who played in three levels of competition – house, select and representative – in Burlington, Ontario. This represented 13,292 player years. There were 247 reported injuries.

The study is garnering considerable media attention. At a time when youth leagues are reconsidering their position on body checking, this report is fodder for those who wish to keep it in the game.

It is in contrast to a study by Carolyn Emery PhD, associate professor of sport epidemiology at the University of Calgary, published in the June 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed that 11-12 year old hockey players who played in leagues that allowed body checking had a 3-fold increased risk of game-related injuries, including severe injuries and severe concussions, compared to those who played in leagues which did not allow body checking.

Dr. Emery estimates that if body checking were eliminated in 11-12 year old ice hockey that there would be 1000 fewer injuries and 400 fewer concussions in Alberta alone.

Notwithstanding these findings, University of Buffalo professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation sciences Barry Willer PhD of the BJSM study minimizes the impact of body checking to kids’ health and says that ‘There is an image of body checking as a form of violence that is condoned by the game of hockey [which it is]. However, this study found that body checking did not account for a large proportion of injuries.’

This is all important stuff.

But it is equally important to distinguish between those risks truly inherent and integral to the game and those which are manufactured. There is a difference between getting hit by a puck or accidentally colliding with another player versus getting taken out of the game and into a hospital as a result of a check from behind or a blind hit.

On a different note, it is curious that American researchers are studying Canadian children playing their national winter sport and publishing their results in a British medical journal.

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