The survey results are preliminary, but they're no less shocking to researchers at Winnipeg's Pan Am Clinic Foundation who are trying to get a more accurate handle on how many young hockey players have suffered a concussion during their short careers.
The early findings show 46 per cent of Manitoba amateur hockey players between the ages of 13 and 21 suffered a concussion or concussion-like symptoms last year.
"The main take-home point is that this is a big problem, maybe bigger than what we anticipated and bigger than what the literature has previously reported," Dr. Peter MacDonald, survey co-author and orthopedic surgeon to the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, said Friday.
"This might be a bigger problem than we ever imagined."
Researchers at the Pan Am Clinic Foundation invited an estimated 15,000 players, parents and coaches six weeks ago to fill out the online survey. Only 700 people have responded so far. The University of Manitoba and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority are also involved in the survey. Funding has been provided by the Winnipeg Jets/True North Foundation.
The numbers are still preliminary, MacDonald cautioned, and he encouraged others to participate in the survey so researchers get the most precise information possible on head injuries in hockey.
The Pan Am Clinic Foundation initiated the survey to gauge if increased attention to concussions, particularly since the one that put Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby out of action for several months, has influenced the knowledge and attitude of players, coaches and parents at the amateur level. Researchers also want to gather information on how young players suspected of having a concussion make their way through the medical system.
Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods said the survey's early results should not be viewed as the final word on the safety of young players on the ice -- what hasn't been released is how the reported concussions happened.
"There's all different levels of injury, and that's what we need to examine," Woods said.
He said the survey results are from only a small sampling of people involved in amateur hockey.
"I'm sure there's some level of bias there that the people responding to the survey are more likely ones that have experienced a concussion symptom," he said. "The ones that haven't are not as diligent, I would say, in responding to a survey of that nature."
More information has to be released about how the survey was conducted, who responded and to break down whether the concussions documented were the result of player-to-player contact or something as simple as a single player accidentally tripping and falling on the ice, Woods said.
MacDonald said the goal of the survey is to develop a clinical program for players who have suffered a concussion and to see if a more effective program is needed to educate players, coaches and parents about concussions.
"We need to get as many responses as possible," he said. "We have to look at it in terms of are we recognizing concussions, are we treating them properly and do we have the available resources.
"Our preliminary data shows many of the kids have not been exposed to these educational programs, so we need further education and awareness."
Last year, Hockey Canada instituted new head-contact rules to reduce head injuries, including when a player accidentally contacts an opponent in the helmet, face or neck with his stick.