The number of hockey-related injuries leading to emergency department visits for children and teens is on the rise, according to a new study.

Hockey injuries treated in the emergency room for children ages 9 to 14 grew from 2,935 in 1990 to 7,713 in 2006, an increase of 163 percent.

The injury incidence among teens ages 15 to 18 grew 85 percent during the same period.

While part of the increase is undoubtedly the result of more children playing the sport the number of high school students playing ice hockey in school-sanctioned leagues increased 88 percent the uptick in injuries might also be due to an increase in the intensity of the sport , the researchers said.

"We can't tell for sure, but we believe that hockey is a much more serious sport now than it was in 1990, so kids are probably spending a lot more time on the ice. That results in more chances for injury," said study researcher Sarah Fields, associate professor of physical activity at Ohio State University.

The study appears in the September-October issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.

Injury increase

The study used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which collects injury reports from 100 U.S. hospitals. The researchers examined all emergency department records from 1990 through 2006 that involved playing ice hockey, including games on ponds or open rinks.
They found significant increases in injury rates both among children and teens, and among females.

Among girls and women, hockey injuries increased 347 percent from 1990 to 2006. Females also accounted for increasingly larger proportion of all hockey injuries, growing from 4.8 percent during the 1990s to 8.9 percent during the years from2000 to 2006.

"Women are about as likely to be injured playing hockey as men, and their participation has increased greatly, which explains why women's injuries have increased so much," said study researcher Jeff Deits, an assistant athletic trainer at Wichita State University in Kansas.

Preventable injuries

One of the more surprising findings was that nearly one in four ice hockey injuries was to the face or mouth, the researchers said.

"The majority of these facial injuries are preventable if players used face masks and shields," Deits said.

Another concerning finding was the number of concussions among young players. Concussions accounted for 9 percent of all injuries in kids under 18, and 3.7 percent of injuries in those older than 18.

"The brains of children and adolescents are more likely to sustain a traumatic brain injury , even at a lesser force, than a mature brain," Deits said. "There's been more focus on traumatic brain injuries in recent years, especially among children, and that's very appropriate."

Deits said parents need to understand the risks involved in hockey, while doing everything they can to reduce those risks.

"Hockey is a full-contact, high-speed sport, at least among older kids and adults. Parents need to make sure their children wear all the protective equipment that's required, but realize there will always be risks involved."