'Look-up line' actually makes hockey rinks less safe, Calgary research suggests

Painting a wide orange line along the perimeter of hockey rinks in an effort to remind players to keep their heads up along the boards appears to have the opposite effect. It actually increases the risk of serious injury, according to new research from the University of Calgary.

“Other sports such as football and baseball use warning lines so players are reminded to avoid certain areas, so we were surprised the look-up line had the opposite effect for hockey,” lead researcher Joan Vickers said in a release.

“Instead of looking up and being aware of the side board, the players looked down longer when we had the look-up line on the ice.”

Players who keep their heads down along the boards have a greater chance of suffering injuries to the head, neck and spine if they lose control or are pushed into the boards, according to medical experts.

The orange line was the idea of an American hockey player who suffered a spinal cord injury in a collision along the boards.

He registered “The Look-Up Line” as a trademark and encouraged arenas to adopt the metre-wide orange warning stripe as a safety measure.

Look-up line

A poster displayed at a hockey rink in Stonewall, Man., where a look-up line was painted on the ice. (Brett Chatfield)

But researchers at the U of C’s faculty of kinesiology spent a year testing these types of warning lines, along with coaches and players from the men’s varsity hockey team, and found the orange markings ended up being more of a distraction.

Elite-level players — equipped with devices that tracked the angle of their head and the direction of their gaze during play — ended up looking down more often on an ice surface with the orange line than they did on a control rink with no orange line.

“We also found they skated further from the boards on the look-up line rink, a result that may prove to be beneficial or harmful,” Vickers said.

“More research is needed to determine the effect of the look-up line in the competitive setting.”

The researchers cautioned that their work only looked at the angle of players’ heads and the direction of their gaze — not at the frequency of injury, specifically, as the degree of contact in the test subjects was relatively mild compared to highly competitive games.

The study was published in the European Journal of Sport Science.

USA Hockey, which funded the study, is also interested in seeing the idea researched further.

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