Body-checking safe in preteen hockey players: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - You may not need to worry as much about young kids body-checking each other on the ice, according to a new study.

Allowing kids as young as 9 years old to use body-checking during ice hockey may be safe if rules are strictly enforced, Canadian researchers said Monday in a report that adds to a long-standing controversy.

The researchers looked at injury rates before and after a rule change allowed the forceful technique to be used by nine- and 10-year-old players in Ontario. Until 2002, only those from 12 and up could use it.

There were slightly more injuries in 10- and 11-year-olds due to checking after the rule change. However, the overall injury rate among 7- to 14-year-olds fell by about 20 percent. And for 12-year-olds, checking injuries halved.

Based on the findings, before the rule change, if 100 kids played hockey for one year, the researchers would expect to find 6 injuries. After the rule change, that number would have dropped to about 5.

“Frankly,” the researchers write in the journal Pediatrics, “the overall decline in rates of injury after the introduction of the rule change was unexpected.”

They note, however, that there was a major change in the way referees enforced rules for illegal contact in the same period, which was likely to have influenced their findings.

“This is certainly a topic of hot debate, especially in Canada where hockey is like football in the US,” said Dr. Claire LeBlanc, a pediatrician at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who was not involved in the study.

LeBlanc is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness, which discourages checking in children aged 15 and younger.

She said most evidence suggests injury rates go up when body-checking is allowed, and that new Canadian data - not yet published -- support that view.

“I am definitely on the opponent side,” she told Reuters Health. “I do not think body-checking should be allowed in children.”

USA Hockey, which governs amateur ice hockey in the US, allows checking from 11 years and up.

“We’ll be continually reviewing our rules,” Dave Fischer, a spokesman for USA Hockey, told Reuters Health. But, he added, “there is always some angst among parents out there.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online March 22, 2010.