A new study has found that younger male ice hockey players had a significantly increased risk of prolonged symptoms from a concussion compared to older players.
Research by Dr. Peter Kriz, a sports medicine physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., found that less physically mature players took on average 54 days — 21 days or nearly 40 percent longer — to recover compared to more physically mature players.
Kriz said the findings highlight the need for student athletes in collision sports to compete with similar-aged players, adding there is risk in having younger, more talented athletes “play up” on varsity teams.
“Unlike other contact-collision scholastic sports with a high incidence of concussion, high school ice hockey lacks stratification by age grouping, largely because of prohibitive costs associated with equipment, transportation, and ice time incurred with fielding varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams,” said Kriz.
“Consequently, it’s not uncommon at the varsity level for younger, less physically mature players to oppose older players with increased strength, power, and speed.”
The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, assessed disparities in age, size, and physical maturity level among ice hockey players between the ages of 13 and 18 who sustained a concussion.
Concussion has been reported to be the most common youth ice hockey injury, representing more than 15 percent of all injuries in players nine to 16 years old players and nearly 25 percent of injuries among male high school players.
The study, performed at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, Boston Children’s Hospital, and South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts, also supports concerns within the youth athletic community that it takes adolescents longer to recover from concussions than adults.
“Our findings have important implications for policy decisions related to grouping for high school ice hockey players,” said Kriz.
“While economic considerations often dictate whether a school fields ice hockey teams other than varsity, we support, at the very least, the establishment of junior varsity ice hockey by state interscholastic leagues for the purposes of player development and improved safety for undersized, peripubertal male players.”
Additionally, policies pertaining to high school football and boys’ lacrosse — two other collision sports that commonly permit underclassmen to “play up” on varsity teams — may ultimately be impacted by these findings, as lighter, less physically mature players may be at risk of prolonged concussion symptoms, he noted.
Kriz recommends that, until further studies determine valid physical maturity indicators, arbitrary age and grade cutoffs should not be used to determine when adolescent athletes are ready to participate in collision sports.
“Until such studies are available, collision-sport high school athletes should play in leagues grouped by relative age,” said Kriz. “Highly skilled, peripubertal collision sport athletes should also be discouraged from ‘playing up’ at the varsity level with post-pubertal competitors three to four years their senior.”
Source: Hasbro Children’s Hospital