Safety Tips for Youth Ice Hockey

Injury Risks and Types

Every year, almost 87,000 adolescents under the age of 15 are treated in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centres, and hospital emergency rooms for hockey-related injuries. In 2006, the total cost of these hockey-related injuries exceeded $978 million. This sum includes medical, legal, and liabilities costs, lost wages, pain, and suffering.

  • Ice hockey players of all ages face a substantial risk of injury.
  • Children’s ice hockey is the second most common cause of winter sports injury.
  • The most prevalent injuries are bruises to the thigh, knee, and ankle. About one-third of the injuries are to the lower extremities.
  • Many people get face lacerations and head injuries (including concussions).
  • Head (Second Impact Syndrome), neck, heart (Sudden Cardiac Arrest and commotion cordis), and spinal cord injuries have resulted in paralysis and death, but such catastrophic injuries are uncommon.
  • Body checking is the most common cause of injury among youth ice hockey players, accounting for 45 per cent to 86 per cent of all injuries1, and is also linked to the most severe injuries. As a consequence of body checking, many injured players are hit by goalposts or the boards.
  • Contact between opponents, most commonly in body checking, is linked to 46% of all minor injuries and 75% of all catastrophic injuries.
  • Concussions are the most common type of specific injury among 9- to 16-year-old players, accounting for more than 15% of injuries.
  • 11- and 12-year-olds who played on Pee-Wee teams where body checking was allowed were three times more likely to suffer a concussion or other severe injuries than those who played in non-checking leagues, according to a Canadian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 9, 2010.
  • Both the quantity and severity of injuries have decreased dramatically as a result of improved safety equipment and modifications in the rules of play.
  • The adoption of helmets and the elimination of body checking have helped to prevent many head injuries.
  • Adding full-face guards to helmets and stricter enforcement of penalties for high sticking have decreased eye injuries.
  • Neck braces have helped to decrease soft tissue and spinal damage.

These safety measures are now required in most youth teams and several high school leagues. Other leagues advocate for these policies yet are lax in enforcing them. If all amateur – and professional – leagues mandated these safety standards, there would be a significant reduction in injuries.

Ice Hockey Injuries: How to Avoid Them

While accidents are prevalent and severe, many can be avoided if players wear all of the appropriate safety equipment and avoid risky actions like body checking. Follow this safety advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, USA Hockey, and other sports and health organizations to help your child avoid injury while playing ice hockey.

Make an appointment for your child to have a pre-participation physical examination. Before your child begins a training program or competes in ice hockey, he should have a thorough physical examination. Your paediatrician can help you determine your child’s risk for specific injuries.

Ensure your child wears all the necessary safety equipment whenever they play or practice. Players in all youth, high school, and college ice hockey leagues must wear the following gear:

  • Helmet with foam liner, full-face mask, and adequately connected chin strap
  • Mouthpiece
  • Pads for the shoulder, knee, elbow, shin, hip, and tendon
  • Hockey pants with padding
  • Gloves for athletic supporters
  • Contact lenses or safety glasses
  • Several leagues recommend neck guards. The HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council), the CSA (Canadian Standards Association), or the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) should all certify all equipment (American Society for Testing and Materials).
  • Make sure your child’s equipment is in good working order. The helmet should fit tightly with a strap that gently cradles the chin.
  • Before allowing your child to play, insist that they warm up and stretch. Neck strengthening and flexibility exercises may help to prevent injuries.
  • Teach your child to avoid playing in pain. Consult your doctor if your child has an injury. Follow all of the doctor’s instructions for recovery, and seek the OK from the doctor before allowing your child to return to play.
  • Ensure that your child’s league has prepared an emergency medical plan and that an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is always present at the rink, along with someone qualified to use it.
  • Ascertain that your child’s coaches:
  • Enforce all of the game’s rules.
  • Encourage kids to play safely.
  • Understand the unique injury risks that young players experience. Avoid body checking (some youth leagues do not allow it), or teach them a proper “ready” position to anticipate body checks if checking is permitted. Checking from behind is never a good idea. This illicit play has been linked to a high rate of injury.
  • Teach your child to keep their head away from the boards and other players. This type of impact can result in severe head and neck injuries.
  • Above all, make ice hockey enjoyable. Putting too much emphasis on winning can lead your youngster to push themselves too hard and injure themselves.