Zipping across the ice, a dozen miniature hockey players race against one another to reach the puck and prevent the other team from scoring a goal.

Their helmets and padded uniforms may ease parents’ concerns about possible injuries. But experts warn that when helmets are worn and body checking is allowed in youth hockey, injuries tend to occur more often.

Intentional body contact, or checking, is used by an opposing team member to gain possession of the puck. Checking can result in injuries to the head, neck and spine. While some argue that teaching young hockey players how to use body checking is beneficial, evidence does not support this method to reduce injuries in youth hockey.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls for youth leagues to disallow body checking for children under age 15. The USA Hockey 2009-’11 Official Rules of Ice Hockey prohibit body checking for all players in youth 10 and under/squirt and below and all girls/women’s classifications.

Players’ sizes can greatly vary, even when children are grouped by age, according to the AAP. This can contribute to injury when body checking is allowed, because some players can weigh nearly double that of their peers.

Researchers recently put this theory to the test in Canada when they compared a league in Alberta that allowed body checking for peewee players (ages 11-12 years) with a peewee league in Quebec that did not. The Alberta league had three times more game-related injuries and concussions than the Quebec league, according to the 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Similarly, a study in the journal Pediatrics that measured rates of injury in 7- to 15-year-old boys in Canada found a decline in injuries after rules were enacted in the 2002-’03 season to raise the age at which body checking was permitted.

To boost sportsmanship and cut injuries, the AAP supports incorporating a fair play concept of scoring. This method reduces violent play by rewarding teams and individuals with the fewest penalties and punishing those with a greater number of penalties.

© 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.