Head & Brain Injuries in Hockey

One of the most physically demanding and intense sports, hockey is known for big collisions, fist fights, and high-speed action.

Unfortunately, head, neck, face, and spinal injuries are a glaring issue associated with the aggressive nature of the sport. 

Hockey head injuries can be incredibly serious and in the worst cases lead to players having to deal with the trauma and effects for the rest of their lives.

Suffering from a traumatic brain injury in sports can be devastating, and survivors and their families are left to deal with medical, financial, and legal challenges.

If you or a loved one suffered a head injury in sports or brain injury in sports, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Contact a sports brain injury lawyer today to find out whether you qualify to participate in a sports head injury lawsuit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours, but sometimes may not appear until 3 weeks after the initial incident.

Symptoms can last for days, weeks, months and even years in the most severe cases.

Headache, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, and blurry vision are physical symptoms of a head injury like a concussion.

Other symptoms include confusion or brain fog, amnesia after the incident, and dizziness.

Head injuries in hockey, specifically concussions, are extremely prevalent at all skill levels.

20% of hockey players attain a concussion during their career, and many more go untreated.

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Table of Contents

Hockey Head Injury Facts & Stats

Head and brain injuries are a problem in hockey at all levels of play, from amateur to professional.

Around 20% of hockey players sustain a concussion during their playing career.

According to Active & Safe, a Canadian organization which studies injuries and prevention methods in sports, head injuries account for:

  • 7-30% of all injuries at the youth level
  • 14-28% at the junior/collegiate level
  • 17% among professionals

According to Foundation Health, the incidence of hockey concussions during games is:

  • 6.1/1000 athletic exposures in the NHL
  • 1.5/1000 athletic exposures in men's college hockey
  • 3.6/1000 athletic exposures in women's college hockey
  • 2.2/1000 athletic exposures in Junior hockey
  • 5.2/1000 athletic exposures in high school hockey
  • 0.2/1000 athletic exposures in no-checking youth hockey

It’s important also to keep in mind that statistics only cover officially reported injuries, and many go unreported and untreated, especially minor concussions and head injuries at the youth and amateur levels.

What Head Injuries Are Common in Hockey?

These are some of the most common head injuries in hockey:

Concussion

The most common of all head injuries in hockey, concussions range in severity from minor knocks to serious injuries that can cause other health problems and require extensive treatment.

A concussion is defined as temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow to the head.

Contusions

A contusion is a bruise to the brain itself.

Contusions are frequently paired with concussions and are sometimes life threatening, requiring immediate medical attention.

Hematoma

Hematoma is a blood clot formed either on the surface of the brain (subdural), within the skull (intracranial), or when a blood vessel ruptures between the outer surface of the dura mater and the skull (epidural).

Subdural hematoma occur within up to 25% of people with brain injuries and can be extremely serious, in the worst cases leading to paralysis, seizures, breathing problems, or coma.

Intracranial hematoma blood collection can be within the brain tissue or underneath the skull, pressing on the brain.

Epidural hematoma is often a life-threatening condition that may require immediate intervention and can lead to extreme brain injury or death if left untreated.

Skull Fractures

A skull fracture is a break in the bone of the skull.

There are four types of skull fractures, the most common being a linear fracture where the bone breaks but does not change position.

Depressed skull fractures result in the bone being sunken in from trauma.

Diastatic fractures happen along the suture lines of the skull, the areas between skull bones that fuse in development as a child.

Basilar fractures are the most serious type of skull fracture and entail a breaking of the bone at the base of the skull.

Other related injuries

Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries are incredibly serious and can result in permanent damage, such as paralysis, and loss of quality in life.

Facial Injuries

Facial injuries, including lacerations, facial bone fractures, damage to the eyes, and more are common in hockey and can result in permanent damage or scarring.

CTE in Hockey

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive brain condition that's thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head and repeated episodes of concussion.

Common symptoms of CTE include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impulse control problems
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Suicidality
  • Parkinsonism
  • And eventually progressive dementia

Many cases of CTE have been reported from autopsies of former National Hockey League (NHL) players.

The prolonged trauma suffered over the course of a hockey career can lead to the debilitating condition.

Advances in the research of CTE have caused sports authorities to take a deeper look into player safety and avoidance measures of the incessant trauma associated with high-contact sports.

Common Causes of Hockey Head Injuries

As a high-speed, intense sport, risky situations are inherent in the game of hockey.

Players can suffer head and brain injuries in a variety of ways.

Colliding with opposing players and teammates, being struck by a puck in the face or head, and colliding with the boards or ice all have the ability to cause serious damage to the head and brain and are common in the course of a game.

Long-term “minor” head injuries can also lead to brain issues later in life.

How Can Hockey Head Injuries Be Prevented?

Protective Equipment

Before 1979, professional hockey players weren’t required to wear helmets.

Even today, most players in the NHL do not wear facial protection in addition to the required helmets.

Regardless, advances in protective gear for players has made leaps and bounds since the introduction of helmets, now using materials from the aerospace industry to ensure utmost protection at lower weights.

Rule Changes

Many amateur leagues have outlawed hitting or checking to prevent unnecessary injuries.

Hits to the head were banned by the NHL in the early 2010s, but concussion issues still persist.

There have been suggestions by the media, players, fans, and authorities on how to make the game safer, but it is ultimately up to the NHL to ensure player safety through rule changes in professional hockey and to set the standard for lower levels of play to follow.

Medical Research on Hockey Head Injuries

The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Research team, formed by medical professionals from across the world, are researching the causes and effects of head and brain injuries to hockey players.

The team is finding new ways to diagnose the severity of concussions and other head injuries, figuring out how to treat players and safely return them to the ice, and interpreting data from head injuries to find the best route forward for players and the sport overall.

There are dozens of research articles on the prevalence of concussions and related head injuries to NHL players and youth/amateur players alike.

Altogether, the mass amounts of research advocate for rule changes and progress to be made to ensure player safety.

Determining Liability for Hockey Head Injuries

Determining liability for a hockey brain injury can be difficult.

Every case is different, with unique factors and situations leading to and following the injury.

The liable party could be a number of different people or groups:

  • Coaches
  • Venue or property owners responsible for providing a safe environment
    • This includes providing a safe ice rink and boards for players
  • League or competition organizers
  • Equipment manufacturers
  • Doctors or medical professionals
  • Other players
  • The player who was injured
  • Shared liability between two or more parties

It is important to understand who is liable in a sports head injury to ensure that the right parties are identified.

An experienced brain injury lawyer from TorHoerman Law can help you identify all liable parties.

Steps to File a Hockey Head Injury Lawsuit

The first step in any personal injury lawsuit is to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer.

If you have suffered a brain injury in sports, you should contact a sports head injury lawyer right away.

Your state statute of limitations bars you from taking legal action after an allotted time, so do not hesitate to seek legal aid right away.

Once you have successfully contacted a sports head injury lawyer, you need to begin the steps to filing a sports brain injury lawsuit.

You may want to familiarize yourself with the steps in the civil litigation process before you move forward.

You should begin collecting evidence as soon as possible after the injury has occurred.

In a sports brain injury lawsuit, some of the best evidence to support your claim includes:

  • Medical bills
  • Personal accounts
  • Witness testimony
  • First responder reports

Any evidence should be well-documented and organized.

Your sports head injury lawyer will be able to determine all the evidence that you may need.

You should also actively work to mitigate further injury by seeking medical attention right away and following your doctor’s orders.

Your sports head injury lawyer will help you to assess the damages that you incurred as a result of the injury – depending on the situation, you may choose to make a demand for both compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Your sports head injury lawyer can also help you to determine liability – which party(s) is liable to provide compensation for the damages that you incurred.

Because many sports injuries occur on privately-owned premises, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of premises liability.

Your sports head injury lawyer may determine that the premises owner is liable for your injuries.

Hiring a Hockey Head Injury Lawyer

Dealing with a sports brain injury, either directly or by helping a loved one, is a difficult experience.

It can feel emotionally draining, intimidating, and expensive.

At Tor Hoerman Law, we understand the pain and suffering in dealing with a brain or head injury in sport.

If you have suffered a sports-related head injury, our team of sports head injury lawyers will work with you to help you understand the legal system and receive the compensation and relief you deserve.

We are happy to discuss your potential sports brain injury lawsuit for free and with no obligation.

Attorneys at THL work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that if you do not gain compensation for your injuries, we foot the bill.

Contact us today to learn more about how a sports head injury lawyer can help you.

Balukjian, Brad. “Hockey Still Plagued by Concussions, despite Rule Changes.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2013, https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-hockey-concussions-20130717-story.html.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 May 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20370921.

“Ice Hockey.” Ice Hockey – Active & Safe, https://activesafe.ca/ice-hockey/.

Izraelski, Jason. “Concussions in the NHL: A Narrative Review of the Literature.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, Canadian Chiropractic Association, Dec. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4262814/.

Johnson, L Syd M. “Concussion in Youth Ice Hockey: It’s Time to Break the Cycle.CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’Association Medicale Canadienne, Canadian Medical Association, 17 May 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091900/.

Michael A Robidoux, Marshall Kendall. “Comparing Concussion Rates as Reported by Hockey Canada with Head Contact Events as Observed across Minor Ice-Hockey Age Categories.” SAGE Journals, 14 July 2020, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2059700220911285.

News, The Hockey. “Advances in Hockey Equipment Will Mean NHLers Will Skate, Shoot and Stop Pucks Faster than Ever.” The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated, The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated, 17 Oct. 2015, https://www.si.com/hockey/news/latest-advances-in-hockey-equipment-will-mean-nhlers-will-skate-shoot-and-stop-pucks-faster-than-ever.

Pollock, Nicolas. “The Tragic Post-Hockey Life of an NHL ‘Enforcer’.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 4 May 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/04/hockey-cte-todd-ewen-brain-injury/587818/.

Sports Medicine Research – Overview.Mayo Clinic, 16 Jan. 2019, https://www.mayo.edu/research/centers-programs/sports-medicine/overview. 

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