Head, neck, and facial injuries in ice hockey: the effect of protective equipment

J Rampton, T Leach, S A Therrien, G W Bota, B H Rowe
Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 1997, 7 (3): 162-7

OBJECTIVES: To determine the factors and behaviors associated with facial, head, and/or neck injuries to those engaged in ice hockey; the use of protective equipment was also examined.

DESIGN: Prospective case series.

SETTING: Emergency Department of Sudbury General Hospital.

PATIENTS: All patients presenting to the emergency department with a head, neck, or facial injury while playing hockey between the months of October and March 1993-94 and 1994-95 were included in the study. Physicians completed data forms on each patient. Information was validated by review of the emergency-room records; further information was obtained by telephone.

RESULTS: A total of 226 patients were identified with ice-hockey-related head, neck, or facial injuries. Most injuries involved males (99%), and the mean age of patients was 23.9 (range, 4-63). Injuries occurred most frequently to the face [192 (85%)]. Many of the injuries were minor, with a mean injury severity score of 1.5 (range, 1-25). However, three patients (1%) required hospital admission, and one teenager suffered a serious spinal fracture. Protective facial hockey equipment use was low in our sample, except among younger injured players. Most of the facial injuries occurred in mature athletes playing recreational hockey. Full facial protection reduced the chance of upper facial injury (p = 0.0001), but the risk of such injury while wearing a half-visor was the same as while wearing no facial protection at all (p > 0.05). From the current study, we estimate that these hockey injuries result in approximately 2.7-3.0 million dollars of direct acute-care medical expenditure per year in emergency departments throughout Ontario.

CONCLUSIONS: Head, neck, and facial injuries suffered during ice hockey participation are common problems presented to emergency departments. Moreover, serious injuries can occur while playing this sport. Most injuries appear to be preventable, and facial protection appears to be less frequently used, especially by older men, than is currently recommended. Prevention strategies are discussed.

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