A study of young hockey players who experienced a concussion suggests that less physically mature players took longer to recover than advanced pubertal and postpubertal players.

The study, led by Hasbro Children’s Hospital sports medicine physician Peter Kriz, MD, found that the less physically mature hockey players took on average 54 days—21 days or nearly 40% longer—to recover from a concussion experienced during the game than more physically mature players.

The study suggests that having younger athletes “play up” on varsity teams with older, larger, and more physically mature players may be risky. Additionally, the study found that lighter weight among males and heavier weight among females increased the probability of experiencing prolonged concussion, according to a media release from Lifespan.

In the study, published online in The Journal of Pediatrics, Kriz and other researchers assessed disparities in age, size, and physical maturity level among concussed adolescent ice hockey players 13 to 18 years of age. It was performed at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and South Shore Hospital, in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Results from the study challenge recent opinion, which has suggested that collision sport participation be postponed until freshman year or 14 years of age. “Sixty-five percent of freshman male ice hockey players in our study were in early stages of pubertal development, and none were postpubertal,” Kriz says in the release.

The findings also support concerns within the youth athletic community that adolescents might have longer recoveries from concussions than adults, the release continues.

“Our findings have important implications for policy decisions related to grouping for high school ice hockey players,” explained Kriz. “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.”

Kriz recommends in the release that, until further studies determine valid physical maturity indicators, arbitrary age and grade cutoffs should not be used to determine when adolescent athletes are ready to participate in collision sports.

“Until such studies are available, collision-sport high school athletes should play in leagues grouped by relative age,” Kriz states. “Highly skilled, peripubertal collision sport athletes should also be discouraged from ‘playing up’ at the varsity level with post-pubertal competitors three to four years their senior.”

[Source(s): Lifespan, Science Daily]