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Recent NHL rule changes regulating hits to the head haven’t reduced concussion rates: study

Toronto, July 17, 2013

By Kate Taylor

Dr. Michael Cusimano
Dr. Michael Cusimano

Despite recent rule changes outlawing hits to the head, the number of concussions suffered by players in the National Hockey League have not been reduced, according to a new study out of St. Michael’s Hospital.

The study, led by Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and concussion researcher, compared data from official game records and team injury reports before and after rules regulating head contact changed in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“The risk of suffering a concussion is still very high for these players,” said Dr. Cusimano. “Although the NHL opted to introduce rules regulating bodychecking to the head in an attempt to improve player safety, our results have found that players are still being injured at unnecessarily high rates.”

The study was published online today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A rule that made targeting an opponent’s blindside illegal was enforced in 2010-11 and then was modified in 2011-12 to encompass all intentional hits to the head. Despite these changes, the study found that the 2009-10 season had the lowest number of concussion and concussion-like symptoms.

“Either the rules need to be enforced more strictly and with more severe consequences to aggressing players and teams, or players are having difficultly adapting their playing and bodychecking style to the new rules,” Dr. Cusimano said.

More than 64 per cent of the concussions were caused by bodychecking, while only 28.4 per cent of events that led to a concussion were called “illegal” and the aggressor was given a penalty, fine or suspension.

Dr. Cusimano said that if player safety and reducing concussions is a priority, then additional changes are needed. Some of these changes include a ban on fighting, harsher penalties for those teams and players who inflict concussions, altering equipment and changes to ice size and rink environment.

Funding was provided by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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