TUESDAY, July 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Introducing body checking to hockey players at a younger age does not reduce their risk of injury over the long term, according to a new study.
There is heated debate about when to allow young hockey players to start body checking. Some argue that introducing body checking at an earlier age helps prevent injuries because players develop an instinctive ability to protect themselves.
There is, however, little truth to this theory, said the University of Alberta researchers who conducted the study.
The researchers analyzed injury rates for 8,000 youth hockey players aged 9 to 15. The kids were split into two groups. The first group played from 1997 to 2002, when children as young as 12 and 13 were taught to body check. The other group played from 2003 to 2010, when players as young as 11 and 12 were taught to body check.
There were no significant differences in the number of fractures or head and neck injuries among the older players in both groups. The researchers also found no significant differences in the younger players, who were never allowed to body check.
The study was published recently in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. The findings, along with other research, show that introducing body checking at a younger age does not prevent injuries, Donald Voaklander, director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, said in a university news release.
The only proven way to reduce injury risk for young hockey players is to forbid body checking, Voaklander said. Many youth hockey officials favor introducing body checking at a younger age, but the evidence against doing so is getting harder to ignore, he said.
"The body of knowledge is building. Sooner or later there is going to be a tipping point," Voaklander said in the news release. "The people making the rules are going to have to make the right choice."
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers hockey injury prevention tips.