Neck Protection In Hockey

Q: I am 13 years old, and I play on a bantam hockey team. Since the Teddy Balkind incident, my teammates and I have had to wear neck guards. Why were neck guards not mandated before the incident? They seem extremely important to wear.  Do you believe neck guards alone will protect my neck from blades and sticks?  
– Olivia S., Rye, N.Y.

 

A: USA Hockey remains concerned about neck lacerations and the potential catastrophic injuries that can occur from a skate blade.  I am glad to hear that all your teammates are wearing neck guards, which are known as neck laceration protectors. USA Hockey recommends that all players wear a neck laceration protector (NLP), choosing a design that covers as much of the neck area as possible. The issue of requiring the use of the neck laceration protector is a regular action item on our USA Hockey Safety and Protective Committee (SPEC) annual agenda.

USA Hockey statement on neck laceration protectors 


USA Hockey continues to recommend a neck laceration protector for all players. The heightened discussions around lacerations from a skate blade reinforce the recommendation that players wear a neck laceration protector that covers as much of the neck as possible along with cut-resistant socks, sleeves or undergarments. USA Hockey, led by its safety and protective equipment committee, will work with equipment companies and maintain efforts to ensure the safest possible environment for all participants.

Currently, USA hockey requires that all players wear a HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council) helmet with a facemask and that all players 12U and above wear a mouthguard. There is a list of additional protective equipment that is suggested by USA Hockey, but no items beyond the helmet and mouthguard are currently required. It should be noted that neck laceration protectors are the only piece of suggested equipment that carries the highly recommended designation by USA Hockey. 

The heart of your question is, “Why are NLPs not considered essential protective equipment for all players?” The answer lies in the results of ongoing sports research that suggest the currently available neck protectors do not eliminate the risk of a neck laceration. In the most widely cited study by Dr. Michael J. Stuart, chief medical officer at USA Hockey, 27 percent of players that sustained a neck laceration were wearing a neck laceration protector at the time of injury. Furthermore, many neck protectors lose their effectiveness over time, as extensive use and repeated washings result in shrinkage of the guard and diminished coverage of neck surface area. In addition to studies demonstrating less than adequate protection from injury by NLPs, there is good evidence that many of the currently available protectors limit cervical neck range of motion, adversely affecting play. For these reasons, use of NLPs is highly recommended but not mandated at this time. 

There is ongoing research and improved testing standards that will help us better study the effectiveness of neck laceration protectors so that a determination can be made about requiring their use. Research results may also allow for development of equipment that provides even better neck protection for athletes than what is available today. The USA Hockey Safety and Protective Committee continues to review data and conduct research to make the game as safe as possible for all involved in our sport.

Issue: 
2023-05

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