(RxWiki News) Although the NHL is on hold for a while, kids across America are still playing hockey and lots of it. Some kiddos are learning to body check into the boards as early as age 11 in Canada, but some parents may be concerned.
But a recently published study has found that learning to check at a younger age hasn't changed the number of injuries that occur.
In line with the debate that learning to check earlier could lead to greater, more serious injuries, researchers said that lowering the age at which body checking starts would not necessarily make it safer when players are in the advanced divisions.
"Play by the rules, whatever the sport."
The study, led by Andrew Harris, MSc, from the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research at the University of Alberta, reviewed the number of young ice hockey players who were hospitalized for injuries to their head and neck.
Researchers looked at more than 8,000 registered male hockey players ranging from 9 to 15 years old between September 1997 and April 2010 in Canada. In 2002, the Canadian Hockey Association lowered the age in which checking could be introduced.
More than half the hockey players were in the pre-age category when checking was allowed for 12-year-olds. The rest of the players fall into the post-age group when checking was lowered to 11 years of age.
The idea behind lowering the age is that fewer injuries might result as players advanced to the higher levels if they developed the ability to protect themselves at a younger age.
Researchers found the number of injuries was lower among the 11- and 12-year-old players in the post-age group compared to the 12- and 13- year olds in the pre-age group.
Within this division, the older kids were almost twice as likely to get injured compared to the younger kids.
Between the pre- and post-age groups, there were no significant differences between the number of fractures and head and neck injuries.
"How body checking is introduced, taught, and practiced is likely to be very important, but evidence shows that injury rates increase when body checking is introduced," researchers wrote in their report.
"As body checking is part of the elite, semiprofessional, and professional men's hockey, it is unlikely that body checking will be removed from most levels of minor hockey, as advocated by some."
For the other hockey divisions that have the younger kids and older teenagers, researchers did not see any differences.
"It has been suggested that introducing body checking at an earlier age leads to decreasing injury rates over time, possibly due to a learning effect; however, this conclusion has been disputed," researchers said in their study.
They note their study didn't include hockey injuries that were treated outside the hospital environment, so minor injuries were not reported.
They also did not know the age that athletes started playing and how old exactly players were when they were injured, other than the age bracket they fell under within their division. Both may have skewed results.
Future research should look more into whether checking helps decrease the number of injuries in older hockey divisions, the researchers said.
The authors report no conflicts of interest. The study was published in the November 2012 issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. Funding information was not available.