Guarded Response

USA Hockey Taking A Hard Look At Neck Guards

Long before Richard Zednik suffered a neck laceration in February 2008, USA Hockey created a survey to determine how often these potentially serious injuries occur.Long before Richard Zednik suffered a neck laceration in February 2008, USA Hockey created a survey to determine how often these potentially serious injuries occur.

USA Hockey’s Neck Laceration Policy Statement

USA Hockey’s Neck Laceration Policy Statement USA Hockey is very concerned about neck lacerations and the potential catastrophic involvement of arteries, veins and nerves. To date, there is sparse data to describe the prevalence of such an occurrence, the severity or whether or not a neck laceration protector reduces risk or severity.
Based on a survey of USA Hockey players, neck lacerations from a skate blade are rarely serious, but the potential for severe consequences to veins, nerves or arteries remain a concern. In addition, current neck laceration protector designs do not eliminate the risk of a neck laceration.
USA Hockey recommends that players wear a neck laceration protector, choosing a design that covers as much of the neck area as possible. Further research and improved standards testing will determine the effectiveness of these devices.
Presented by USA Hockey’s Safety & Protective Equipment Committee.

It was every parent’s nightmare. It didn’t matter that it happened to someone else’s kid, or that that “kid” was an NHL superstar.

By the time every sports fan woke up on the morning of Feb. 11, the horrifying replay of Richard Zednik being clipped in the neck by a Florida Panthers teammate’s skate was airing from coast to coast.
   
As the incident was unfolding live, Dr. Michael Stuart was sitting in his Rochester, Minn., home, watching the NHL network when announcers cut in with an update on Zednik’s condition in a Buffalo hospital. It didn’t take long for Stuart’s phone to light up with calls from reporters seeking comment, and from concerned parents seeking guidance.

“Like everyone else, I was obviously worried,” recalls USA Hockey’s Chief Medical Officer. “It was on national TV and everybody got freaked out about it, and for good reason. It was a scary event.”

For Stuart, the injury cut home on another level. His oldest son was cut on the neck as a freshman playing for the Colorado College Tigers. He received multiple stitches, but was able to return to play the following week.

USA Hockey has been committed to learning more about this injury well before the Zednik injury. Months earlier, Stuart and fellow Mayo Clinic researchers sent out almost 400,000 e-mail surveys to USA Hockey registrants, asking if they had ever experienced or witnessed a neck laceration, and if the injured person was wearing a neck guard at the time.

The results of the study, which came from 26,589 responses, showed that “a neck laceration from a skate blade while playing hockey is an uncommon occurrence.”

A disturbing finding was that “more than one out of four players who sustained a neck laceration were actually wearing a neck laceration protector at the time of the injury”. Follow up interviews were also conducted to get more information, from the type of neck guard worn to details surrounding the injury.
   
The survey, while the most extensive of its kind ever conducted, only scratched the surface when it came to determining how often neck lacerations from a skate blade occur in hockey.

“It’s a difficult thing to study because it’s such an uncommon injury that you can’t really get a handle on the actual risk and whether or not these protective devices work,” Stuart says. “Fortunately, all of reported lacerations in the survey were relatively minor injuries.”
   
When choosing a neck guard, remember this: more is better, and safer.When choosing a neck guard, remember this: more is better, and safer.The Safety and Protective Equipment Committee admits that the potential for a serious injury does exist (See Policy Statement); but the survey did not provide enough data to warrant that USA Hockey mandate the use of neck laceration protectors for its players.

“There are arguments one way or another on whether to wear a neck laceration protector, and none of them are based on a whole lot of facts,” says Stuart, who presented his findings at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress.

“We don’t want to come across as being against neck laceration protectors. We recommend that players wear a design that covers as much of the neck area as possible. However, any rule change should be based on some scientific evidence, not an emotional reaction.”

For now, Stuart says that further research needs to be conducted to improve the current design and testing of neck laceration protectors before USA Hockey makes any type of rule change.

“We’d like to mandate [the use of neck guards] but we don’t have a product that we feel we can endorse,” Stuart says. “Current protectors don’t eliminate the risk. And most players who currently wear one are using the most ineffective type.”

Still, as the father of four hockey players, Stuart can understand the concern that parents have when they see something like the Zednik incident flash across their TV screens. That’s why he continues to look for ways to build a better mousetrap.

“Any potentially life-threatening injury is very frightening,” says Stuart. “We are very concerned and will continue our efforts to make hockey safer for everyone.”

Issue: 
2008-09

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