Peter McKnight: A rule change could prevent more than half of all concussions in youth hockey

Opinion: Banning bodychecking in leagues for all kids under 18 would prevent many brain injuries, including the effects of subconcussive impacts


It’s been 50 years since the famous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, and most Canadians remember it for Paul Henderson’s legendary goal in Game 8, which resulted in Canada taking the championship.

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But there was something else that stood out, or should have. While the entire Soviet team wore helmets, only three Canadian players did. With increasing attention to concussions and other brain injuries in hockey, it seems hard to believe that the NHL only required helmet use in 1979, and only for new players.


On the other hand, the rule change might not have made any difference, at least when it came to concussions. While helmets can protect against skull fractures and other serious injuries, they cannot stop concussions, as concussions are “acceleration injuries.

Upon receiving a blow, whether to the body or the head, the brain speeds up and slows down inside the skull, and this can lead to a mild traumatic brain injury known as a concussion. Since the helmet is worn on the outside of the skull, there is not much you can do to prevent this type of brain injury.

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But we can. Hockey Canada has in recent years implemented several rule changes to limit concussions, including reducing head contact, hitting from behind, and general violence in the game.

However, there is one more rule change that could prevent more than half of all concussions in youth hockey: Ban bodychecking in leagues for all kids under 18.

Bodychecking is recognized as the leading cause of concussions in hockey, and according to the Calgary Sports Injury Prevention Research Center, contact hockey is itself the leading cause of concussions in Canadian youth sports.

According to a recent study of high school kids’ collision sports, the center found that hockey produced 15.8 concussions per 100 participants per year: above the rates in football, rugby and lacrosse.

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Hockey Canada has, in fact, banned contact for players under the age of 13 and, according to the center, the ban reduced the rate of concussions by almost two thirds.

Although contact is allowed for older youth, it is still possible to measure the impact of body control. In a recent study, the center found that Alberta and BC players ages 15 to 17 who play in non-contact leagues had 51 percent lower concussion rate than those of the bodychecking leagues.

If that doesn’t convince you that body control is an issue, consider this: Minor hits that don’t even result in a concussion can still cause brain injuries. Neuroscientists at Simon Fraser University recently discovered that subconcussive blowsthat are common in contact hockey, are enough to affect the vital signs of the brain.

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Research in recent years has increasingly focused on the effect of subconcussive impacts in contact sports, in part because they are likely to play a significant role in the development of the devastating condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). .

Initially seen in boxers who were considered “drunk”, CTE has now been diagnosed in numerous hockey and football players. The progressive condition results in deterioration of the brain and has been diagnosed in a number of former athletes who engaged in suicidal and homicidal behavior.

Originally believed to be caused by repeated concussions, researchers now believe “the best available evidence suggests that subconcussive impacts, not concussions, are the driving force behind CTE.”

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Even if things don’t come to that point, brain injuries take a heavy toll on athletes, especially youngsters still in school. A single concussion can result in difficulty concentrating, memory problems and depression, a devastating trifecta when you have to attend classes and do homework.

Many of these problems persist long after the initial concussion. A recent University of Toronto to study found that four out of five young concussed hockey players experienced symptoms for months or even years.

If body control were banned, the researchers estimated that the vast majority of concussions with lasting symptoms could be prevented.

As head impacts multiply, so do the consequences. One concussion makes athletes more susceptible to a second one, and a second one often results in a longer recovery time. After multiple impacts, recovery may be impossible, as it is in CTE.

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However, this does not have to be the case. Sure, when Canada won the Summit Series 50 years ago, we didn’t know the serious neurological risks of contact hockey. But we do it now. We also know the effects of concussions and other brain injuries, and we know that removing body control is the best way to prevent them.

That doesn’t require eliminating hockey altogether, which would also eliminate the many benefits it confers on the young people who participate, including physical and mental well-being, leadership skills, the importance of functioning as part of a team and how to win and lose. with grace. .

But none of these benefits come from bodychecking. And none will be lost if deleted. On the contrary, it will allow youngsters to enjoy the benefits of hockey without the risk of literally losing their minds.

Pedro McKnightThe column appears weekly in the Sun. He can be contacted at mcknight[email protected]

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