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New research shows that less physically mature ice hockey players are more likely to experience prolonged symptoms from concussion.

The study, led by Dr. Peter Kriz from Hasbro Children´s Hospital, assessed disparities in age, size and physical maturity level among concussed adolescent ice hockey players aged 13 to 18 years.

Results showed that male student ice hockey players in earlier pubertal stages took on average 54 days to recover after suffering concussion. That´s 21 days — or nearly 40% — longer than more physically mature players. The researchers also found that lighter weight among males and heavier weight among females increased the probability of experiencing prolonged concussion.

Dr. Kriz noted that it´s not uncommon for younger, less physically mature players to compete against older players with increased strength, power and speed. But the new findings highlight the need for student athletes in collision sports to compete with similar-aged players and that there is risk in having younger, more talented athletes ‘play up´ on varsity teams.

“Our findings have important implications for policy decisions related to grouping for high school ice hockey players,” Dr. Kriz explained. “While economic considerations often dictate whether a school fields ice hockey teams other than varsity, we support, at the very least, the establishment of junior varsity ice hockey by state interscholastic leagues for the purposes of player development and improved safety for undersized, peripubertal male players.”

Policies relating to other collision sports which commonly permit younger athletes to ‘play up´ may also be impacted by these findings.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Pediatrics, the researchers concluded: “Until further studies determine valid physical maturity indicators, peripubertal collision sport athletes should compete in leagues grouped by relative age and be discouraged from ‘playing up´ on varsity teams.”