The British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit ranks ice hockey as third when it comes to sports-related emergency room visits for youths, after basketball and soccer. That ranking may be surprising to anyone who's ever watched an NHL game. The allowance of contact, paired with the fast-moving puck and slippery ice seems like a recipe for disaster. But the right type of protective gear and joining the right league for your age can help protect you from common hockey injuries.
One of the most common injuries in hockey is a concussion or other head-related injury. Head injuries can come from contact with another player, contact with the boards, slipping and falling and contact with the puck. Knowing the signs of a concussion can help you act quickly when a team member takes hit. Disorientation, loss of sight, dizziness, nausea and loss of balance are all earmarks of a concussion. Hospitalization may be required. Other head injuries include facial lacerations and various bumps and bruises.
When it comes to contact in hockey, it is only discouraged in younger leagues or specifically non-contact leagues. Since a contact league is four times more likely to report injuries, according to the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit, contact hockey is the most dangerous version of the sport. Contact hockey allows players to check one another and basically use their bodies for defensive and offensive purposes, so long as the stick is not involved and blows don't affect the face. This can result in everything from bruises after being sandwiched between another player and the boards to broken bones as a result of being pushed off balance on the ice.
Hockey is most often played from an aggressive stance, with the knees bent to lower your center of gravity to the ice. This posture can lead to back pain and injuries, depending on the way you're hit or your skating posture. Staying close to the ice may make for good defensive strategy and offer speed when skating, but you may find that you suffer a sore back after the game. When combined with the rapid twisting of a slap shot and being checked into the boards by another player, your back can take a lot of the pressure when you suffer a hockey-related injury.
The best way to prevent injuries while playing hockey is to wear your gear and wear it properly. A helmet is a must when you're on the ice, as are shoulder, leg and shin pads. While hockey equipment can certainly feel bulky, so long as you practice skating while wearing your safety gear you should be able to adapt to wearing it always. If you're worried about contact-related injuries, look specifically for no-contact leagues. While some contact is virtually impossible to avoid in hockey, you'll at least avoid some of the hardest hits.