Saving Face in Field Hockey

Fewer face and head injuries among field hockey athletes who wear protective gear

(RxWiki News) Your child athlete might think twice about wearing the helmet or the eyewear that would keep his or her head intact. But the data doesn't back them up.

In states where protective eye and head gear is required, field hockey athletes have fewer head, eye and face injuries, new research has found.

These researchers found that injuries to the head and face were significantly more common in states that did not require players to wear protective head gear. These players were more than five times as likely to get injured in the eye compared to those who wore the protective gear.

"Be safe: wear protective gear."

"This study adds to an accumulating body of evidence, most recently demonstrated in high school women's lacrosse, that mandated protective eyewear effectively and significantly reduces the rates of head and facial injuries in contact and collision sports," researchers said.

"Additionally, the use of eye protection does not appear to give these athletes a feeling of 'invincibility' such as the use of helmets in contact sports may."

The aim of the study, led by Peter Kriz, MD, from the a Division of Sports Medicine, Department of Orthopedics at Brown University, was to see if the number of injuries differed among high school field hockey players required to wear protective eyewear versus those going without.

Through national and regional databases, researchers gathered information from 180 high schools from 14 of the 19 states that have field hockey.

Over two seasons between 2009 and 2011, just before it was required by law to use protective eyewear, 212 injuries were reported to the face, eyes and head. 

"We now have a large, national study that provides evidence that protective eyewear is indeed effective in reducing head and facial injuries, including eye and orbital injuries, which validates the decisions of rules committees such as the NFHS to mandate protective eyewear use in high school field hockey and other sports," Dr. Kriz said in a press release.

In addition, injuries were more severe among those who had no protection. About 32 percent of these athletes were benched and could not play or practice for more than 10 days, compared to 17 percent of players in the other group.

However, the number of concussions did not significantly differ between the two groups.

Though some believe athletes may become more aggressive if they wear protective equipment and lead to more injuries, the authors say that their study shows otherwise.

"Our study challenges this perception," said Dawn Comstock, PhD, co-author and principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"We found no increase in the rate of concussions or player-to-player contact injuries in states that mandated protective eyewear."

The authors note that their study was not done at random and mainly looked at male field hockey athletes. Also, only schools with athletic trainers were allowed to participate, which may skew results and is not representative of the rest of the population.

They also did not look at different subcategories of injuries and may have not accounted eye injuries as much as they should have.

"Women's field hockey is a non-contact sport, to my knowledge, so the risk of head trauma is significantly less than a contact sport such as football, men's lacrosse, etc., other than blunt trauma from the ball (and this is where the eyewear comes in)," said Dan Clearfield, DO, primary care sports medicine physician and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

The study was published online November 12 in Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevent Blindness America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment supported the study. The authors do not declare any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
November 13, 2012