As a spectator, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of watching hockey and football games – the sound of skates slicing through ice or pads making solid contact on the field. However, have you ever stopped to wonder which sport is more dangerous?
Hockey and football are both known for their hard hits and intense physicality, but they also come with different risks. In order to determine which sport may be more dangerous, we need to take a closer look at the injuries that can result from playing each one.
Injuries such as concussions and spinal cord injuries are all too common in both sports, but the frequency and severity of these injuries can vary depending on various factors. The type of protective gear worn by players, the rules governing body checking or tackling, and even the surfaces upon which the game is played can contribute to injury rates.
“The differences between hockey and football extend beyond just the equipment and rules, as they impact the nature of gameplay and how players approach potential collisions.”
At the end of the day, determining which sport is more dangerous depends on multiple factors. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of hockey and football and see what makes them both riskier than your average pastime.
The Physical Demands of Hockey
Endurance and Cardiovascular Fitness
Hockey players require a significant level of endurance and cardiovascular fitness due to the nature of the sport. The game consists of three periods, each lasting 20 minutes of playtime. During this time, players will be skating at high speeds, performing rapid direction changes, and making intense bursts of movement.
This level of physical exertion demands that hockey players have exceptional aerobic endurance as they need to maintain their energy levels throughout the long game. They must also possess excellent anaerobic capacity, which is essential for recovering after short bouts of intense activity.
“Hockey requires a combination of great endurance, speed, agility, balance and strength.” – Angela Ruggiero, former Olympic gold medalist in ice hockey
Strength and Power
Along with an impressive cardiorespiratory system, hockey players also depend on strength and power to excel in their sport. Pushing themselves off the ice repeatedly and engaging in body checking places considerable stress on muscle groups like the legs, core, and upper body.
Proper conditioning that includes exercises like squats, lunges, and lateral movements can improve leg strength, while resistance training workouts using weights, exercise bands, and medicine balls develop overall power through the arms, back, and shoulders.
“Players take a beating out there; broken bones are common, as well as strains and sprains.” -Doc Emrick, NHL commentator
Agility and Coordination
Hockey players’ quick movements require exceptional agility and coordination, enabling them to navigate around opposing players quickly. Agility is particularly critical when it comes to stopping and starting so players can change directions instantly. On the other hand, coordination allows for the smooth and precise execution of movements like stickhandling, shooting, and passing.
Agility drills that incorporate changing direction rapidly can help improve a player’s agility. Additionally, exercises integrating hand-eye coordination training using pucks or balls can enhance their skills further, allowing them to pass, shoot, and receive passes with both power and accuracy.
“What sets hockey apart is its combination of speed, skill, body checking, fighting, finesse, brawls and occasional bloodletting.” -Chico Resch, former NHL goaltenderIs Hockey or Football More Dangerous?
The answer to whether hockey or football is more dangerous depends on how you define “dangerous.” Both sports carry inherent risks in terms of injury, but research shows that ice hockey players are more likely to suffer severe injuries compared to football players.
A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that ice hockey players experienced 64% more concussions per capita than football players. This data suggested that despite wearing protective gear, ice hockey carried a higher risk of head trauma due to the nature of collisions in the game.
On the other hand, football players often suffer from injuries such as broken bones and sprains, while any significant brain damage usually only happens after extended periods of play, such as years of suffering hits to the head. Therefore, while both offer physical challenges, it seems that ice hockey carries a higher safety risk when it comes to head injuries.
“You have to learn how to be tough mentally as well as physically. And then also, most importantly, you need to have the desire or love for the sport.” – Cammi Granato, retired professional women’s ice hockey player
The High Impact Injuries Common in Football
One of the most common injuries suffered by football players is a concussion. A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when the head hits something hard, such as another player, the ground or a wall.
According to statistics from the NFL, there were 224 diagnosed concussions during the 2019 season alone, although experts believe that many more cases go undiagnosed due to players not reporting symptoms and lack of testing.
“There’s no denying that football has one of the highest concussion rates among all sports.” -Dr. Christopher Giza, Medical Director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program
Severe concussions can cause long-term damage, including memory loss, mood swings, and chronic headaches, which can impact a player’s quality of life after they retire from the sport.
ACL and MCL Tears
A torn ligament is another common injury for football players. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) are crucial for knee stability, and an injury to either one can sideline a player for several months.
In football, ACL tears commonly occur during sudden stops and changes in direction, such as planting the foot while running. A direct blow to the inside of the knee can cause an MCL tear.
“The ACL is often referred to as the “footballer’s curse” because it’s so common in the sport…” -Victoria Anderson, Physiotherapist at Northumbria University
ACL and MCL tears require surgery followed by extensive physical therapy before a player can return to the game. Some players never fully recover their pre-injury ability levels, and many see a decline in their performance over time due to the injury.
Is Hockey Or Football More Dangerous?
When it comes to evaluating which sport is more dangerous between hockey and football, opinions vary. Both sports have high rates of injuries, including concussions, fractures, and sprains.
Hockey is associated with more frequent fighting and checking, contributing significantly to bodily harm. On the other hand, football involves harder hits, blocking and tackling that can also lead to injuries.
“Both hockey and football likely approach 1.2 million injuries annually.” -Dr. John Hogg, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health in New York City
Studies suggest that while football sees more significant injuries, including more catastrophic ones like spinal cord damage, both sports carry inherent risk, highlighting the importance of player safety measures for athletes who want to continue playing well into their career.
While football is known for its hard-hitting tackles and high concussion rates, hockey has a reputation for rough play and contact, making it difficult to determine which sport is more dangerous overall. However, what is clear is the necessity for safety training and protective gear within each sport to minimize the risks of physical trauma and long-term damage.
The Importance of Protective Gear in Both Sports
Sports such as hockey and football are physically intense and can pose a significant risk to athletes who participate. Safety should always be the top priority, which is why proper protective gear is crucial when it comes to preventing injuries and minimizing their severity.
One of the most important pieces of protective gear for both hockey and football players is a helmet. Helmets protect the head from serious injury, including brain damage.
In football, the helmets used are made with various safety features that minimize the risk of concussions, skull fractures, and other head injuries. Among these features include additional foam padding inside the helmet that provides extra protection against impacts, face masks to prevent facial injuries, and chin straps to help keep the helmet secure on the player’s head at all times.
Similarly, when it comes to hockey, players must use specific helmets designed especially for this sport. These helmets come equipped with similar safety features as those found in football helmets but also have unique design elements to cater to the specific demands of ice hockey.
For example, many hockey helmets have a mechanism that allows the player to adjust how snug the helmet fits using a dial at the back. This added feature ensures a custom fit that keeps the helmet securely fastened during gameplay. Some even have built-in visors or cages to protect players’ eyes and faces from pucks, sticks, and blades.
“A concussion doesn’t care if you’re wearing the best helmet out there.” – Alyssa Pickett, youth sports expert and founder of Concussion Discussion
Pads and Guards
Aside from helmets, pads and guards play an equally vital role in protecting athletes’ bodies in both football and hockey. These pieces of equipment safeguard players’ shoulders, elbows, knees, and shins from various injuries.
Football players wear a wide range of protective gear including shoulder pads that shield against bone fractures, chest padding to protect the ribcage, thigh guards to shield against hits to the leg, knee pads, and shin guards.
Hockey players also don a significant amount of protective gear in addition to helmets. They use padded gloves, elbow pads, and chest and shoulder protectors to reduce the impact of collisions, falls, or fights among players, Similarly, hockey players need specialized pants featuring thick padding around their hips and thighs and lower legs for added protection.
“Players who wear adequate protective sports eyewear are virtually free from eye injury.” -American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
Another crucial piece of safety equipment utilized by both football and hockey players is mouthguards. This small yet essential device serves to protect the teeth, gums, tongue, and cheeks from impacts resulting from collision with other athletes as well as the ground.
In football, mouthguards serve several purposes besides adding an extra layer of protection to players’ oral health. They can help stabilize the jaw during contact, improving balance, increasing oxygen flow, and reducing stress and anxiety levels. What’s more, custom-fitted mouthguards made by dental professionals offer a better fit than generic store-bought versions, ensuring optimal protection and comfortability for players.
Similarly, in ice hockey, where sticks and pucks fly at high speeds and bodies collide frequently on the icy surface, mouthguards are non-negotiable. In some leagues, players are required to wear mouthguards during practice and games. However, even when not mandatory, it is advisable that all hockey players wear them due to the extensive risks involved in this sport.
“A mouthguard absorbs and distributes force over a larger area, reducing the risk of injury.” -American Dental Association (ADA)
Both football and hockey carry with them enormous risks, which are best minimized through proper safety equipment. Protective gear such as helmets, pads, guards, and mouthguards are essential for safeguarding athletes’ bodies from injuries when playing rough sports like these.
The Risk of Concussions in Hockey vs. Football
Both hockey and football are contact sports that carry the risk of concussions, but there are some differences in the incidence rates, symptoms and long-term effects, prevention strategies, and treatment options.
Differences in Incidence Rates
According to a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, high school football players have a higher concussion rate (11.2 per 10,000 athlete-exposures) than high school ice hockey players (3.0 per 10,000 athlete-exposures).
Another study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found that professional ice hockey players had a higher concussion rate (7.1 per 100 player-games) than professional football players (4.8 per 100 player-games). This may be due to the fact that hockey allows for more frequent and forceful body checking compared to football tackles.
Symptoms and Long-Term Effects
The symptoms of a concussion can include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, sensitivity to light or noise, nausea, and fatigue. These symptoms usually go away within a few days, but sometimes they can persist for weeks or even months.
Repeated head injuries can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss, depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, aggression, and other cognitive and behavioral problems. CTE has been found in both former football and hockey players.
The best way to prevent concussions is to avoid getting hit in the head. In both hockey and football, players should wear properly fitting helmets with face shields or visors, mouthguards, and neck protectors. The equipment should be well-maintained and replaced if it becomes damaged or outdated.
Coaches should teach proper tackling and checking techniques to their players, as well as rules about avoiding hits to the head. Referees should enforce these rules consistently and penalize any dangerous plays.
If a player suspects they may have a concussion, they should stop playing immediately and seek medical attention. A doctor can perform tests to determine the severity of the injury and provide guidance on when it is safe to return to play.
Treatment for a concussion usually involves rest, both physical and mental. This means avoiding any activities that could make symptoms worse, such as exercise, loud music, bright screens, or complex tasks. As symptoms improve, gradual return to normal activities, including sports, can begin with close supervision from a healthcare provider.
“Every time you get hit in the head, it’s a concussion, but no one wants to tell you that.” -Retired NHL enforcer Riley Cote
No matter whether someone plays hockey or football, concussions are a serious potential risk. By understanding the differences between the sports’ incidence rates, symptoms, long-term effects, prevention strategies, and treatment options, individuals can better protect themselves and others while enjoying these popular games.
The Long-Term Effects of Playing Both Sports
Both hockey and football are physically demanding sports that can cause excessive wear and tear on the body. Joint degeneration is a common long-term effect for players in both sports, particularly knees and hips.
In hockey, the constant stopping and starting on a hard surface like ice puts significant pressure on the knees and hips. The fast-paced nature of the sport also means players often have to make sudden twists and turns, putting even more undue stress on their joints.
In football, players experience similar issues due to the repetitive jumping, pivoting, and running involved in the game. According to Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, “The combination of hip impingement, labral tears, and osteoarthritis from years of playing football has led some former NFL players to need total hip replacements early in life.”
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
One of the most well-documented long-term effects of contact sports like hockey and football is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head trauma. CTE can result in memory loss, depression, aggression, and other cognitive and emotional problems later in life.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found evidence of CTE in 110 out of 111 brains of former NFL players tested. While there is less data available on CTE in hockey players specifically, a 2019 study conducted by researchers at Boston University found evidence of the same patterns of brain damage in deceased NHL enforcers as in deceased NFL players with known histories of concussion.
Quality of Life in Retirement
Retirement from a professional sports career can be difficult for many athletes, regardless of the sport. However, hockey and football players may face unique challenges due to the physical toll their sports take on their bodies.
A study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that NFL players had significantly higher rates of early mortality compared with MLB players of similar age, race, and BMI. The study cited cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, and unintentional injuries as leading causes of death for former NFL players.
Hockey players also face increased risk for a number of health problems later in life, including arthritis, chronic pain, and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. A 2016 report by the Canadian Medical Association found that former NHL players were nearly twice as likely to die prematurely as the general population, with the most common causes of death being related to heart disease and trauma-related injuries.
Post-Retirement Healthcare Needs
The healthcare needs of retired hockey and football players can be significant due to the potential long-term effects of playing these sports. Unfortunately, many players struggle to access the care they need after retirement.
In a USA Today op-ed, former NFL player Pierre Thomas wrote about his own experiences accessing healthcare after his football career ended: “I needed my herniated discs treated, but I lost my insurance when I left the league. And some insurers wouldn’t touch me — or any retiree — with pre-existing conditions.” Similar issues are faced by many retired hockey players, who may not have access to the same level of benefits as current players do.
“The biggest health risk facing our members today is the lack of post-career medical coverage,” said Glenn Healy, executive director of the NHL Alumni Association.
The NHL Alumni Association has advocated extensively for improved healthcare benefits for retired hockey players, but the issue remains a concern for many former athletes in both sports.
While both hockey and football can be enjoyable and rewarding sports to play, they both come with significant risks. It’s important for players, coaches, and parents to carefully consider those risks before participating and take steps to minimize their long-term impact.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there more head trauma in hockey or football?
Studies have shown that football has a higher incidence of head trauma than hockey. This is due to the fact that football players experience more frequent and more forceful hits to the head than hockey players.
Which sport has more severe injuries, hockey or football?
Both hockey and football players are at risk for severe injuries, but football has been known to result in more serious injuries due to the nature of the sport. Football players are at risk for spinal cord injuries, which can lead to paralysis, while hockey players are at risk for injuries such as broken bones and lacerations.
Are concussions more common in hockey or football?
Concussions are more common in football than hockey. Football players experience more frequent and more forceful hits to the head than hockey players, which increases their risk of experiencing a concussion.
Does the equipment used in hockey or football make the sport more dangerous?
The equipment used in hockey and football is designed to protect players from injury, but it can also make the sport more dangerous. In football, the heavy padding can create a false sense of security and encourage players to engage in more risky behavior. In hockey, the equipment can be used as a weapon, leading to intentional hits that can cause injury.
Which sport has a higher risk of long-term health consequences, hockey or football?
Both hockey and football have been linked to long-term health consequences, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). However, football players appear to be at higher risk due to the nature of the sport and the frequency and severity of head trauma they experience.