USA Hockey has teamed up with Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic on a new initiative to reduce spinal injuries in youth hockey players. While many campaigns have taken aim at banning fighting and tougher rules on head-checks, both common causes of head injuries in ice hockey, the new program addresses the fundamentals of the sport. "Heads Up, Don't Duck" teaches players just that - to keep their heads up when colliding with the boards around the rink, which reduces the shock impact on the spine.
"When the head is up, the normal curvature of the spine has more shock-absorbing ability," explains Michael Stuart, co-director of Mayo Clinic's Sports Medicine Center and chief medical officer for USA Hockey. "When the head is down, the spine is straight, which makes it more susceptible to fracture that can damage the spinal cord."
Data collected since 2008 by the Sports Medicine Center has found that cervical spine fractures are the most common injury in youth hockey players, with spinal and head injuries accounting for the majority of injuries.
The training program includes a video demonstrating the dangers associated with players ducking their heads as they crash.