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Published on February 14, 2016

A goal for hockey players: fewer concussionsA goal for hockey players: fewer concussions

When you see a couple of 300-pound football players collide, it’s not shocking that concussions have become an issue in pro sports. But when it comes to youth hockey, it’s a bit surprising to learn that bigger players aren’t at the greatest risk for concussions.

A study published in the February issue of Pediatrics found that ice hockey players aged 12 to 14 were more than twice as likely as 15- to 18-year-olds to suffer a concussion. In football, older players are more likely to get a concussion.

“Younger [hockey] players may be at higher risk for concussion than older players, possibly due to unfamiliarity with checking and disparities in body size and strength, which highlights the need for concussion awareness and clinical care in this at-risk age group,” Anthony Kontos, the study’s lead author, told healthfinder.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kontos is research director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

At any age, concussions are cause for concern, said Janelle Laudone, MD, a hospitalist in the pediatric department and Emergency Center at Cape Cod Hospital.

“We take any head injury very seriously,” she said. “All contact sports should be supervised, and children should report any head injury to a coach or parent. If there’s a hit to the head, the child should come out of the game to be evaluated.”

If a concussion is suspected, the player should not be allowed to play again until he or she has seen a doctor.

Symptoms of a possible concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Sensitivity to bright lights or loud noise

Parents also may observe that children are slow to respond to questions, show mood changes (becoming irritable or sad) or have changes in their sleep pattern, according to Dr. Laudone.

“If a parent notices or a child reports any of these symptoms, the parent should talk to their pediatrician that day or the next,” she said. “Symptoms can occur right after a blow to the head or they may take several hours. If someone loses consciousness or if the symptoms are serious, they should get immediate attention.”

There are short-term consequences to having a concussion or multiple concussions but the long-term outlook for children is less known, she said.

In the University of Pittsburgh study, researchers looked at data for nearly 400 ice hockey players aged 12 to 18 who took part in more than 23,000 games and practices over the course of two seasons. Of the 37 diagnosed concussions, all of which involved checking, collisions or other player-to-player contact, nearly half involved illegal plays (such as hitting from behind) leading to penalties.

The incident rate for concussions was three times higher in games than in practices, but hockey players were more likely than football players to get a concussion during practice.

“These findings highlight the importance of providing medical assistance, not only during ice hockey games, but also during practices, where more concussions occurred than expected,” Dr. Kontos told Health Finder.

He emphasized the importance of training young players to obey the rules.

“Better enforcement of existing penalties for illegal hits – especially those from behind when players are less able to protect themselves – may help to limit concussions in youth ice hockey.