The age at which bodychecking is introduced in youth ice hockey does not appear to affect overall risk of injury and concussion, although introducing it at the Pee Wee level (ages 11-12) reduces the risk of injury resulting in more than seven days loss from playing time for Bantam ice hockey players (ages 13-14), found an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) (pre-embargo link only) http://www.
The age to introduce bodychecking in youth hockey leagues is controversial. To determine whether there is a difference in risk of concussion and injuries from bodychecking at different ages, researchers looked at data from leagues in Alberta, which allow bodychecking at the Pee Wee level, and in Quebec, which introduce the practice at the Bantam level.
The study involved 995 players from 68 Bantam teams in Alberta with two years of bodychecking experience in Pee Wee and 976 players from 62 Quebec teams with no bodychecking experience in Pee Wee. The researchers included all hockey injuries requiring medical attention and/or leading to time loss from hockey.
There were a total of 272 injuries (51) concussions in Alberta during 96 907 player-hours and 244 injuries (49 concussions) in Quebec during 85 464 player-hours. Head and shoulder injuries were the most common in both groups. Previous injuries and concussions were risk factors for future injuries, and first-year players were at higher risk of injury than those in the second year of Bantam.
The risk of all injury and concussion did not differ between a Bantam league where bodychecking was introduced two years earlier in Pee Wee and a league where bodychecking was first introduced in Bantam. The risk of injury resulting in more than seven days' loss from playing time for Bantam ice hockey players however, was reduced by 33% in leagues where bodychecking was introduced two years earlier in Pee Wee.
"These findings need to be interpreted in light of previous evidence of more than a threefold increased risk of concussion and all injury among players aged 11-12 years in a league where bodychecking is permitted," writes Dr. Carolyn Emery, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, with coauthors.
"Policy regarding the age at which hockey players are introduced to bodychecking requires further consideration," the authors state. "Consideration should be given also to the age at which a player is able to make an informed decision about playing under these conditions of increased risk, perhaps after they have finished a critical physical growth period that could be focused on skill development."
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary, Laval University, the Jewish General Hospital, McGill University and the Alberta Children's Hospital.