Ice Hockey Injuries and Prevention

Hockey is the fastest and most exciting game in the world. Typical of many contact sports, there are certain risks, many of which can be modified and reduced.

Most injuries during hockey involve collision (boards, ice, goal posts or other players), being hit with the pucks or by injudicious use of the stick. Fortunately, there are few, but very well publicized severe injuries if the neck and spine. Injuries also vary depending on the age, ability level, and competitive situation of the various players.

Any hockey player needs to have appropriately fitted and well-maintained equipment designed for their level of play. Youth hockey through Division I college hockey have mandated the use of mouth guards and full face shields, which have significantly reduced the incidence of dental, facial, and eye injuries since the 1970's. There is no evidence that the added weight of face shields has increased the incidence of neck injuries in ice hockey.

Hockey players require age appropriate conditioning and strengthening both off and on the ice. Age and ability specific programs are available from local therapist and trainers at Avalanche Physical Therapy, and a variety of sports serve to cross train for ice hockey. Eye hand coordination racquet sports, as well as balance, power and strengthening exercises can all be performed off ice.

Perhaps the most important knowledge for the prevention of hockey injuries is a clear understanding and enforcement of the rules. Hockey is an emotional and physical game (a perfect opportunity to teach young people some discipline, self-restraint and sportsmanship), and it is everyone's responsibility to keep the game safe for all. Checking from behind, spearing, butt ending, kicking and high sticking are dangerous and very serious penalties that should not be taught or tolerated. All of us - players, coaches, referees, parents, and fans - have to emphasize fun and safety on a daily basis.

Good equipment, proper conditioning, knowledge and enforcement of the rules will keep hockey the fastest, most exciting, and safest game for everyone involved.

Peter C. Janes, MD is a provider for Vail • Summit Orthopaedics in Frisco, Edwards, and Vail, Colorado.