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Large increase in the number of concussions among ice hockey players

Published: 11 November 2016

The number of concussions among elite ice hockey players has increased dramatically since the 1980s, according to a new study from Luleå University of Technology.

Mascha Pauelsen, PhD student in physiotherapy, and Yelverton Tegner, professor in health science and MD with a long experience as a team physician for elite teams in ice hockey, football and basketball, have analyzed the concussion incidence rate ratios across 29 consecutive seasons for a Swedish elite series ice hockey team (from 1984/85 to 2012/13).

The concussions were diagnosed according to guidelines of the Committee to Study Head Injury Nomenclature. The number of concussions have, with the players' consent, been registered season by season.

29 consecutive seasons

The study from Luleå University of Technology, "Concussions in Ice Hockey – a Cohort Study Across 29 Seasons", shows that 90 of the total 267 participating athletes (34 percent), sustained a total of 162 concussions during the 29 seasons.

33 players had 2 to 4 concussions, four players sustained 5 or 6. Two players had to end their career due to multiple concussions.

Until the late 1990s, there were an average of 40-50 concussions per 1000 played games. Since 2010, there have been over 100 concussions/1000 played games.

– For our study, we have been in contact with referees in SHL (Swedish hockey league) and their opinion is that the games have become tougher. Players skate faster and have bigger protection gear, making it easier to play tough, says Mascha Pauelsen as an explanation to why the number of concussions have increased.
Besides a significant increase of the number of concussions, the study also shows a trend toward longer rehabilitation periods due to concussion.

Risk for future problems

– It takes longer and longer to recover. We know from other studies that there is a risk that players who suffered concussions in the future develop so call boxer’s dementia, says Yelverton Tegner.

Mascha Pauelsen says that the increase of number of concussions within the Swedish elite ice hockey is real; it’s not about the doctors becoming better at diagnosing.

– That’s an important message, she says.