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Body checking in ice hockey is considered a fundamental and essential component of the game in the eyes of many involved in the sport. While some find body checking entertaining, it has also been criticized for glorifying violence and causing many serious injuries. An analysis of the literature shows that it is the illegal body checks (such as checking from behind), as well as checks to the head (legal in some leagues), that result in the most serious injuries. Illegal checking must be punished more severely with an automatic additional game suspension, rather than a case-by-case assessment. The present penalty system in most leagues has not curtailed the incidence of illegal checking, but more severe punishment which includes automatic additional game suspensions would likely be more effective. The problem must also be addressed at the grass roots level by recognizing the critical importance of proper coaching. Strict enforcement of facial protection and consideration of larger rink size for more playing room may also help reduce serious injury. Age restrictions on allowing body checking have been suggested due to size differences between players, but there exists no evidence that injuries in ice hockey are the result of larger players checking smaller players. Still, the concerns of playing a contact sport in the developing athlete is not without merit. It must be emphasized that body checking is an acquired skill that should be taught in a developmental fashion. It is not only the techniques of body checking, but also the attitude towards checking, that must be properly taught.
ice hockey, checking, body checking, injury, spinal injury, concussion, violence
Clinical Assistant ProfessorTeam PhysicianAttending Physician, University of Washington School of MedicineUniversity of Washington Ice HockeyUniversity of Washington, Seattle, WA