If you’ve ever watched a hockey game, it probably doesn’t surprise you that hockey players are at a high risk for concussions. There are many reasons for this. The high impact nature of the game of hockey puts the players at a higher risk than other sports. Youth hockey players are also at a higher risk as are defensemen on any level of game.
The nature of the game of hockey is impact. The action is fast and bone crushing. Imagine what this means for the brain. Hockey players wear helmets, but they are designed to protect the skull, not the brain. The higher risk for concussions comes from stopping quickly, causing the brain to ricochet around inside of the skull. The players are large and move very fast. When there are collisions between players or when players are slammed into the boards surrounding the ice the impact is very high.
Many of the hardest hits in hockey are blind hits. When a player is hit from behind or the side blindly, they are unable to protect themselves or brace against the impact. This leaves the brain largely unprotected and makes the risk of concussion very high for hockey players. The difference in height between players can be a factor, as the head comes in contact with the shoulders of taller players.
Studies have shown, that for many reasons, youth and high school hockey players are at possibly the highest risk for concussion. Common wisdom used to be that kids healed faster, so they’d return to play sooner. Experts are now finding that this isn’t true and that returning to play soon raises the risks of complications after a concussion. Youth also have a higher head to body ratio. This, combined with less developed neck muscles equals a lack of control of the head, leaving the brain to ricochet in the head as it whips around.
Defensemen and players with a high amount of penalty minutes have also shown to be factors in the higher risk of concussions for hockey players. Defensemen are involved with a lot of hits and take many hits against the boards. While it’s not predictive of a concussion, it comes as no surprise that there is a correlation between the number of penalty minutes a hockey player gains and concussions. This may speak to the aggressive style of play many hockey players are famous for.
Hockey is loved for faced paced, hard-hitting action, but these qualities are why hockey players are at a higher risk of concussions. The hits, the impact on youth players and fighting all contribute to the high concussion rate of hockey players. All of this indicates that closer monitoring and changes are needed in the game of hockey. If you are considering enrolling your child in hockey it might be beneficial to speak with a practitioner that is well versed in concussion care.