Ice Hockey Injuries Peak During Adolescence

More than 18,000 youth hockey players were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for ice hockey-related injuries in 2001-2002, according to a new study.

Researchers say the results show that the number of ice hockey injuries peaks during adolescence. Males account for more than 90 percent of the injuries reported.

Although the percentage of ice hockey players hospitalized after injury was very low, the study suggests that youth hockey players under 18 are twice as likely to be hospitalized after injury compared with those 18 and over.

Ice hockey is a popular sport in many regions of the U.S., and researchers say more than 530,000 players are registered with hockey leagues, including more than 370,000 youths. But they say that until now no study has evaluated ice hockey-related injuries using nationwide data.

The risk of injury in ice hockey is high due to the velocity of players, pucks, and sticks. Players move at speeds of up to 30 mph, and the speed of the pucks often exceeds 100 mph.

Hockey Injuries by the Numbers

In this study, researchers used information from a national database on injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms from 2001 to 2002.

The results show that an estimated 32,750 people with ice hockey-related injuries were treated over the two-year period, including more than 18,000 youth hockey players under 18.

The most common ice hockey-related injuries were strains, sprains, cuts, and bruises. Only a small percentage of those treated for ice hockey injuries were hospitalized, but more than twice as many youth hockey players were hospitalized as older players (1.25 vs. 0.5 percent).

Injuries to the upper extremities, such as the arms, hands, and wrists, accounted for the greatest number of injuries among youth hockey players (44 percent), and injuries to the face accounted for the least (10 percent).

Researchers credit the low percentage of facial injuries to the effects of helmet and full facial mask requirements in youth hockey leagues.

Other findings of the study include:

—Youth hockey players experienced fewer ice hockey-related cuts than other age groups.

—Males experienced 90 percent of all ice hockey-related injuries, but females represented a higher percentage of injuries among youths than among adults.

—The incidence of head injuries increased as age decreased, but this trend was not statistically significant.

—Youth ice hockey players had a higher percentage of arm, hand, and wrist injuries compared with all other age groups.

—The percentage of traumatic brain injuries reported decreased as the age of ice hockey players increased.

Researchers say the results show that youths and adults can reap the physical fitness and social benefits from ice hockey and avoid preventable injuries by following USA Hockey rules on fair play and using proper safety equipment.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Hostetler, S. Pediatrics, December 2004; vol 114: pp e661-e666.