Female lacrosse players may need better protection

December 8, 2014

Topic: concussions

Researchers from Brown University discovered that female lacrosse players may need more protection than they have now.

Researchers from Brown University discovered that female lacrosse players may need more protection than they have now. Women's lacrosse differs from men's. Female athletes wear less protection, but they sustain fewer injuries than men, such as concussions. However, more people are beginning to debate whether women should begin wearing headgear.

The study authors measured the force of a lacrosse stick swing. At their peak, the girls swung at an average of 60 times the Earth's gravitational acceleration, simply known as g, when hitting a head form. The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.

A questionable need
U.S. Lacrosse noted that women's lacrosse is not played with additional protection for several reasons. For one, the rules in women's lacrosse are much more restrictive than men's, and women are not allowed to hit one another above the neck. Until 2003, the sport was not played with any protective gear for women, even goggles. It also has one of the lowest rates of injury among women's sports. 

The researchers hoped to determine the force of a hit to the head by a lacrosse stick. They asked lacrosse players between the ages of 12 and 14 to deliver 36 hits to a dummy's head. The study authors noted that the force of the hits were equivalent to aggressive street fights. They noted that most of the lacrosse sticks were broken by the end of the data collection. The researchers also wanted to give organizations such as U.S. Lacrosse and lacrosse equipment manufacturers an idea of the types of force they could expect in a worst-case scenario.

They gave participants one of six sticks, all containing motion capture markers. The dummies were equipped with accelerometers. In a second round of testing, the dummies wore one of four types of protective headgear.

In total, the girls swung their sticks 508 times, averaging a speed of 18 miles per hour.

Testing different types of headgear
The study authors wanted to investigate what effect wearing headgear may have on the hardest hits, which were around 23 miles per hour. The research team measured the force of the hits using different types of headgear. The dummies either donned nothing, a rugby cap, a men's lacrosse helmet, martial arts headgear or soft headgear made for women and girls' field hockey and lacrosse.

For the dummy with no protection, the force of the hits was 81.6g on the side and 150.7g on the back of the head. Men's lacrosse helmets brought the force considerably low, to 28.g on the side and 23.1g on the back of the head. The other types of headgear also brought down the level of force, but not as much as the lacrosse helmet.

So, the findings revealed that wearing headgear can significantly reduce the force of a lacrosse hit. However, it may not always prevent injury. Past research has revealed that helmets may prevent skull fractures and traumatic brain injury, but not concussions. Yet there is little correlation between the force of a hit and the chance of a concussion. Encouraging wearing a hard helmet on the field may only cause more head injuries by allowing the game to be more aggressive.

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