Is Hockey More Dangerous Than Football? Discover the Surprising Truth

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When it comes to contact sports, there are always safety concerns. And two of the most popular and widely played sports in North America, hockey and football, both involve a fair amount of physicality. But which one is more dangerous?

In this article, we’ll be exploring the surprising truth about the safety and injury rates of hockey in comparison to football. While many may assume that football takes the cake as the riskier sport due to its high-impact collisions and head injuries, the data suggests otherwise.

“We often hear about concussions in football, but what about concussions in ice hockey? The answer might shock you,” says Dr. Carol Chen, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with extensive experience treating athletes in both sports.

From broken bones to brain trauma, we’ll take a deeper look at some of the most common types of injuries players sustain on the field or on the ice. We’ll also explore research studies that weigh the risks against the rewards of playing these physically demanding games.

If you’re an avid sports fan or simply curious about the safety of your favorite pastimes, read on to find out the facts behind this debated question: Is Hockey More Dangerous Than Football?

The Physicality of Hockey and Football Compared

The Differences in Game Play

While both football and hockey require a lot of physical contact, their game play differs significantly. In football, players mainly tackle and block each other to move the ball down the field. On the other hand, hockey requires players to skate, maneuver with a stick, and shoot a puck into the opposing team’s goal.

Additionally, football is played in short bursts with longer periods of rest between plays, whereas hockey is played almost continuously with brief intermissions between periods. This means that hockey players need to have more endurance and stamina than football players do.

The Similarities in Physical Demands

Despite their differences, both hockey and football demand significant physicality from their players. Both sports require strength, agility, speed, and persistence to be successful on the field or ice.

In addition to these general demands, there are unique skill sets required for each sport. For example, football players must have excellent hand-eye coordination, while hockey players rely heavily on their leg strength and balance.

“We’ve seen football players who are excellent athletes struggle on the ice because they simply don’t have the skills required for hockey,” says former NHL player Jeremy Roenick.

Football and hockey players also commonly experience injuries such as concussions, broken bones, and muscle strains. However, studies suggest that football players may be at a higher risk for serious head injuries compared to hockey players due to the frequency and intensity of collisions they experience during games.

“The amount of repetitive blows to the head has led many to question whether we can really make football safe without fundamentally changing the game,” says Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University.

Regardless, both sports require a certain level of physical toughness from their players and carry inherent risks. It is up to the individuals themselves to weigh the potential risks against the rewards of playing these beloved sports.

The Most Common Injuries in Hockey and Football

Hockey and football are two of the most popular contact sports in North America. Both sports require players to display a certain level of aggression, speed, and physicality to be successful. However, with that comes an increased risk of injuries occurring on the field or rink. While both hockey and football have their own unique injury patterns, we will explore which sport is more dangerous.

Head Injuries

Both hockey and football have been plagued by head injuries over the years. Head injuries can range from mild concussions to severe brain damage and even death. The nature of these sports makes it easy for players to receive blows to the head due to collisions with other players or equipment.

  • In football, concussion rates were the highest among boys’ ice hockey, boys’ lacrosse, and girls’ soccer.
  • American football accounts for 100 out of every 1,000 hospitalizations for traumatic brain injury in children ages five to 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In hockey, concussions account for roughly 15-20% of all injuries suffered by players each year. According to research conducted by CBC News, former NHL enforcer John Scott estimated that he endured approximately six concussions during his career.

Lower Body Injuries

Football players often suffer from lower body injuries when they collide with opponents or plant their feet awkwardly while running. These types of injuries usually involve the legs, knees, ankles, or feet and can vary in severity.

  • A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that there was a high incidence of knee injuries among female football players.
  • FIFA’s latest study showed that ankle injuries were one of the most common injuries in professional soccer.

Lower body injuries are also very common in hockey, as players need to constantly maneuver around each other and quickly change direction. These types of injuries usually occur in the legs or feet and can range from mild strains to severe fractures.

  • In a study published by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that lower body injuries accounted for 57.2% of all injuries among youth and junior ice hockey players in Canada.
  • NHL players also suffer from various lower body injuries throughout their careers. Ankle sprains are especially common due to the tight skates they wear on the ice.

Upper Body Injuries

Football players often sustain upper body injuries during tackles or while blocking opponents. These injuries typically affect the shoulders, arms, or hands and can sometimes result in dislocation or fracture.

  • A study conducted by Dr. Andrew Lincoln showed that upper extremity fractures account for roughly 20% of all football injuries.
  • In addition, shoulder injuries account for almost a quarter of all sports-related emergency room visits, according to the CDC.

Hockey players can also suffer from various upper body injuries when slammed against the boards or colliding with another player. These injuries typically involve the upper extremities such as the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

  • Shoulder injuries are relatively common in hockey, particularly amongst goaltenders who have to frequently fall onto the ice.
  • Bruised ribs and separated shoulders are common injuries sustained by players after being smashed into the boards.


Concussions are perhaps the greatest concern for both football and hockey athletes. They are caused by a blow to the head that causes the brain to move back and forth within the skull, leading to damage of brain tissue.

Studies have shown that athletes who suffer multiple concussions can develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re trying our best with helmets and mouth guards and concussion protocols,” says Dr. Eric Chehab, Orthopedic Surgeon at MedStar Health in Baltimore. “But when you take those three items together, we still haven’t come up with something that’s impervious to head injury.”

So, is Hockey More Dangerous Than Football?

The answer is not crystal clear as both sports carry their own risks. While football may have a higher incidence rate of certain injuries such as lower body and upper extremity fractures, hockey players are more susceptible to concussions and other head injuries due to the physical nature of the sport.

It’s important for players and coaches of both sports to be vigilant about player safety and take appropriate precautions such as wearing proper protective equipment and following established protocol surrounding injuries.

The Impact of Concussions on Hockey and Football Players

Short-term Effects

A concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body, can have immediate effects on both hockey and football players. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, and confusion. In severe cases, players may lose consciousness or experience seizures.

In both sports, concussions are inevitable. More than 10% of college football players reported at least one concussion during the 2018 season, according to a survey conducted by the NCAA. While for hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL), there was an average of approximately 212 total concussions per NHL regular season from 1997 through 2004 as stated in a paper published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

Long-term Effects

Repeated concussions over time can lead to more serious long-term health consequences for both hockey and football players. They may develop post-concussion syndrome, which is characterized by headaches, difficulty thinking, and mood changes that can last for weeks or even months after the initial injury. Additionally, they may be at greater risk for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) later in life.

“We need to recognize that while contact sports provide many positive experiences and build character, we cannot ignore the long-term neurologic risks,” says Dr. Robert Stern, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and anatomy & neurobiology at Boston University who has studied CTE extensively.

Prevention and Treatment

To prevent and manage concussions in hockey and football players, it is essential to raise awareness about the importance of reporting head injuries and seeking medical attention when necessary. Proper equipment should always be worn, and new rules should encourage safer play and penalize dangerous hits. Players should also receive education on how to avoid concussions and how to identify symptoms.

“Making a one-hundred-percent effort to have proper technique with tackles, having the right equipment on, and getting diagnosed as quickly as possible can really help restore safety in both hockey and football,” says Dr. Jeff Webb who serves as Chair of the USA Football Medical Advisory Committee.

“We want young athletes participating in sports,” says Dr. James F. Moriarity, a specialist in pediatric sports medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “But we need to make them as safe as practically possible.”
In conclusion, while both hockey and football pose some risks of concussion injuries, it’s difficult to conclude which sport is more dangerous than the other since different factors like gameplay, rules, and player characteristics all intersect in each sport. With that said, there is ongoing research about making these high-contact sports safer through rule changes and functional screening strategies to detect early signs of head trauma. Coaches, players, and organizers must pay close attention to concussion prevention measures and educate themselves to limit traumatic brain injuries, whether they’re playing organized or pick-up games.

The Protective Gear Used in Hockey and Football

Hockey and football are both intense physical sports played by millions of people around the world. These high-contact games involve fast-paced movements, body checks or tackles, and continuous use of sticks for hockey players. With athletes competing with such vigor on the field or rink, protective gear is crucial to lessen injuries and maintain player safety.

Hockey Gear

Players participate in ice hockey equipped in layers of protective gear that varies depending on their position. Leg pads, chest protectors, helmets, gloves, mouthguards, jockstraps/cups, and skates are all required equipment for ice hockey players. Shin guards made of plastic and foam padding provide protection against pucks and opponents’ skate blades. However, they do not guarantee full security because they cannot cover every inch of leg area..

Goalies have extra additions including a caged mask to shield their face from hard-flying shots, thick bulky pants and blocker gloves to prevent puck damage while save a goal. Additionally, shoulder patches, elbow pads, neck guard, throat protector, and moveable knee and thigh guards to defend them when hit boards, other surfaces or if player-to-player collision occurs. They also carry a catching glove to stop airborne pucks and clear it out away from their goal areas swiftly.

All these types of gear are designed professionally with advanced materials allowing flexibility without reducing the effectiveness of protection. The innovation of safety technologies has increased dramatically over the years, minimizing the severe problems caused by several collisions accumulated throughout the game’s duration. Even so, injuries still occur in almost every match irrespective of the sophisticated accessories type they wear during playing time.

Football Gear

In American football, required added equipment offer a similar range of protection, except there are no skates necessary, and the addition of a helmet with a grille or visor. Helmets save players from tremendous head injuries, especially concussions caused by accidental blows to the head. Shoulder pads that protect safely their torso during tackles along with hip and thigh pads worn beneath athletic pants offer maximum security against various other leg-related trauma

Football players wear gloves made of superior quality materials enabling them to have perfect grip while handling the ball and put it over the end zone for points. Eye shields prevent dirt or grass clippings entering particle zones in the faces of the individual wearing them across the pitch. Coaches keep reminding players of every team to ensure the equipment they wear is uncompromised before taking up their respective positions on the field.

Effectiveness of Gear

Different levels of gear effectiveness can be observed in hockey and football sports due to the nature of physical contact involved in both games. Several research studies show that the average risk of significant injury occurrence for NCAA footballers ranged between 2.7% and 4%, which includes wounded ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, fingers (including ligaments and tendons), eyes sunken, severe scrapes and cuts are also common.. However, even though ice hockey has substantially less participant numbers compared to football, statistics reveal that national records highest hospital admission rates were related to extreme cases like concussions, myocardial contusions, fractures, and spinal cord injuries among others. These constitute catastrophic injuries requiring prolonged recovery times and resulting in future medical degenerations. The disparity in participation could seriously skew the data giving higher numbers for hockey as there are more chances individuals will get injured over several seasons playing regularly

“Protective gear doesn’t fall off — we take helmets very seriously now,” said Chris Nowinski, co-founder at the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation. “But we can’t point to equipment as the solution in our fight against concussions.”

Nowinski believes that protective gear can reduce impacts and surface injuries but cannot protect players from every type of physical collision or trauma caused by rotational forces inherent in many impact situations.

Both ice hockey and football require sophisticated and necessary protective gear for player safety. The nature of the sport determines why specific equipment is used more than other kinds. Although gear innovation enhances protection, injuries still occur at high-impact collisions since they can come out of nowhere. Players should always ensure their protective gear is well-maintained and up-to-date so that they don’t place themselves at risk when playing.

The Long-term Effects of Playing Hockey and Football on Health

Brain Health

Both hockey and football have been linked to an increased risk of brain injuries, including concussions. According to a study published in JAMA Neurology, former NFL players are three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases compared to the general population.

Hockey players also experience their fair share of head injuries, with an estimated 10% of all hockey-related injuries involving concussions. A study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery found that retired NHL players who had suffered multiple concussions scored lower on cognitive tests than those who never sustained a concussion.

“The issue is not so much what happens immediately after a single head injury, but rather what’s happening through repetition of blows over the years,” says Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading expert on sports-related brain injuries.

Joint Health

While both sports involve heavy physical contact, hockey carries a higher risk for joint injuries. The fast-paced nature of the game often leads to collisions at high speeds, increasing the likelihood of knee and ankle injuries.

In contrast, football players tend to suffer more upper body injuries, such as shoulder dislocations and spinal cord injuries. However, they are not immune to joint injuries, with many players experiencing long-term problems related to knee and hip damage caused by repetitive stress.

“Joints don’t just start hurting one day out of the blue — it’s wear and tear over time,” notes Dr. Joshua Harris, orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the University of Washington Huskies football team.

Overall Health and Life Expectancy

Studies have shown that both hockey and football can take a toll on overall health over the long term. Former players of both sports have been found to have an increased risk for chronic conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Additionally, hockey and football are two of the most physically demanding sports, which can lead to premature death in some cases. A study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that a career in professional football was associated with a 38% higher risk of mortality compared to the general population.

“Hockey and football are certainly not low-impact sports, and it’s important for athletes and parents to understand the potential risks involved,” says Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey.

Both hockey and football carry significant risks when it comes to long-term health effects. While the specifics may differ based on the nature of each sport, it’s clear that neither is more dangerous than the other overall. Players and parents should prioritize safety when participating in any contact sport to reduce the risk of serious injuries and long-term health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the injury rates for hockey compared to football?

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, football has a higher injury rate than hockey. Football players are more likely to suffer from injuries to the head, neck, and spine, while hockey players are more likely to suffer from injuries to the lower extremities. However, both sports carry a risk of injury and require proper safety precautions.

Are the types of injuries sustained in hockey more severe than those in football?

The types of injuries sustained in hockey and football vary, but both sports can result in serious injuries. Hockey players are at risk for injuries to the head and face due to the use of sticks and pucks, while football players are at risk for concussions and other head injuries from collisions. The severity of the injury depends on the individual case and the specific injury sustained.

What safety measures are in place for hockey players compared to football players?

Both hockey and football have safety measures in place to protect players. In hockey, players are required to wear helmets, face shields, and mouthguards. In football, players are required to wear helmets, shoulder pads, and other protective gear. Both sports also have rules and penalties in place to discourage dangerous play and protect players from unnecessary harm.

Do players in hockey and football have similar risks for long-term brain damage?

Research has shown that both hockey and football players are at risk for long-term brain damage. This is due to the repeated head impacts that occur in both sports. However, the specific risk and severity of brain damage may differ between the two sports depending on factors like the frequency and intensity of the impacts.

What role does equipment play in the safety of hockey and football players?

Proper equipment is essential for the safety of both hockey and football players. Helmets and other protective gear can help prevent head injuries and other serious injuries. However, equipment alone cannot guarantee safety. It is also important for players to follow safety rules, use proper techniques, and participate in appropriate training to reduce the risk of injury.

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