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Concussion rates in hockey rise as the sport gains popularity in Arizona

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PHOENIX — In recent years, ice hockey’s popularity has grown in Arizona with youth participation jumping by 88 percent — to 4,500 players statewide, including 800 girls.

The growth of the sport has come with a spike in brain injuries as well.

Dr. Javier Cárdenas is one of the nation’s experts on the diagnosis and treatment of concussions and other forms of brain injury.

“Hockey is a collision sport, that meaning part of the game is to collide with other players creating plenty of opportunities for injuries,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday.

Hockey’s rising participation numbers in Arizona come despite concussion rates that rival those of other collision sports, including football.

A 2016 study found that 9.3 percent of youth ice hockey players sustained a concussion and that players from 12 to 14 years old are twice as likely to sustain a concussion as older players.

“When we look at ice hockey concussion injuries, we are seeing the player to player contact, better known as checking, as the biggest issue. Knocking someone into the boards,” Cárdenas said.

Hockey’s growing popularity is a stark contrast to youth football, which has seen progressively declining numbers attributed to concussion concerns among parents.

Cárdenas mentioned a recent study that found many of the concussions in hockey are preventable because they are hits that are not allowed.

A sports neurologist, Cárdenas said it is harder to regulate ice hockey in Arizona because most of the teams are club agencies that create their own rules and regulations, unlike high school football, which has to abide by state rules.

He believes the best way to prevent concussion injuries in hockey is by making sure the officials are penalizing these hits and that coaches are teaching good sportsmanship. In addition to the athletes playing a clean game.

Cárdenas created the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center, the nation’s most comprehensive concussion prevention, treatment and education program. He also regularly treats athletes as a consultant with the NFL and Arizona State University.

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