James Slauterbeck, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at the UVM Medical Center and an associate professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. He specializes in orthopedics and sports medicine.

The 15th International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will bring the world’s best female hockey stars to Vermont from April 7th to April 14th.  Teams will hail from the USA, Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany.  The USA claimed gold at the past three IIHF Women’s World Championships and Canada claimed gold at the past three Olympics.  USA won gold at the 1998 Olympics, which was the inaugural year for women’s ice
hockey.  That said, the USA has never won gold on home soil and hopes to do so for the first time in Burlington!

The UVM Medical Center is pleased to a part of the action as the host hospital providing medical services for the games.  Drs. Eicker, Endres, Benoit, Lisle, Verry and I will be assisting the teams with medical and orthopedic coverage throughout the tournament.

Women’s Ice Hockey: Gaining Popularity

Women’s hockey has been around since the 1800’s and has recently exploded in popularity.  There are now two women’s “pro” leagues in Canada.  In the USA, women’s ice hockey has been played at the college/university level since the early 1970’s and had its first “frozen four” championships for the 2001 season.

By the Numbers: Injury Rates in Women’s Ice Hockey

So how risky is ice hockey?  The National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance System (ISS) is a database that is voluntarily maintained and was started in 1982.  A seven-year review of this database was published in 2010 in the Canadian Journal of Surgery.  According to this review, the injury incidence in an ice hockey game was 12 injuries per 1000 exposures in games, and 3 injuries per 1000 exposures during practice.  The incidence of concussions was .82/1000 exposures.  Player contact was the most common mechanism for concussion in women.  Interestingly, the rate of injury over the seven years has decreased by 3%.  For women, the most common injury was concussions, followed by injuries to the hip, groin and ankle.

Interestingly, when reviewing all college sports in the ISS database, the overall incidence of injury in games was 13.8 injuries per 1000 and in practices were 4.0 injuries per 1000 exposures.  Therefore women’s ice hockey has a lower injury incidence than average for college sports.

Keeping Checking in Check

All that said, there’s an ongoing debate around the practice of “checking” and injury.  Checking, or physically keeping an opposing player who has the puck in check, especially in regards to using the hip or body (body checking) is a common defensive practice in ice hockey.  There is a high association between checking and injury, so a lot of emphasis is placed upon the age at which checking should be allowed as part of the sport.

A consistent debate occurs in North America determining at what age checking should begin. In some Canadian provinces, checking is allowed at age 12 and others at age 14. The Canadian Society of Sports Medicine recommends no checking until age 14.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no checking before age 15.  These recommendations arise from a large review of the literature and the meetings of many experts in the field.

In youth hockey, boys and girls both play on the same teams.  No checking is allowed.  Eventually boys’ youth teams and most men’s’ teams will check, and girls and women’s’ teams will not allow checking.  In either case, hockey is considered a high-speed collision sport for both sexes.

James Slauterbeck, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at the UVM Medical Center and an associate professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.  He specializes in orthopedics and sports medicine.


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