MONDAY, Jan. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly two-thirds of National Hockey League players missed at least one game due to injury during a three-season span, and teams paid $653 million to injured players during those seasons, new research shows.
"Employers are morally responsible for protecting their employees," study author Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said in a hospital news release. "The NHL owners need to do a better job of protecting their athletes -- if not for their players, then for their own pocketbooks."
Cusimano and his colleagues analyzed data from the 2009 to 2012 NHL regular seasons. They found that more than 63 percent of the approximately 1,300 players on team rosters during those seasons missed at least one game due to a hockey-related injury.
Time lost to concussions alone accounted for $42.8 million a year, according to the study, which was published Jan. 20 in the journal Injury Prevention.
Looking at one 30-week period, the researchers found that head and neck injuries (including concussions) were the second most common type of injury. On average, these injuries accounted for the most games missed and were the single most expensive type of injury (more than $350,000 per incident).
The most common types of injuries during that 30-week period involved legs and feet, the researchers said. Groin problems were the third most common. On average, groin injuries were less costly (about $204,000) than those to the shoulders (nearly $307,000), arms and hands ($290,000), and chest and abdomen (about $219,000).
"Most arguments against changing the game cite the connection between violence and revenue," Cusimano said. "But this research shows that preventable injuries -- such as concussions, which are clearly related to violent acts in 88 percent of cases -- have an important economic burden in addition to the high personal health costs that players bear."
In 2010, the NHL introduced a rule that banned blindside hits to the head. The next season, the rule was changed to also include targeted head shots from any direction. Both seasons were included in the study. Therefore, the researchers said, it appears that extra steps are still needed to prevent injuries.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers tips for preventing hockey injuries.