Much of the attention on concussions in sports has centered on football, and to a lesser extent, soccer. With lacrosse participation increasing across the United States, parents might wonder if their sons are at risk.
Girls’ lacrosse is growing rapidly as well. Since female athletes have higher rates of concussions in sports played by both males and females with the same rules, like soccer and basketball, concern over concussions is justified in lacrosse. However, in girls’ lacrosse the athletes cannot make body contact with another player. Female players can check an opponent’s stick when that player has possession of the ball.
Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has previously shown that female lacrosse players have a higher percentage of head and face injuries than male players. Currently US Lacrosse does not mandate helmets for girls’ lacrosse. Optional soft headgear is allowed.
Impacts from blows to the head
A study published by Joseph Crisco and others in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics examined the accelerations of stick blows to the head and whether different types of headgear would protect against those blows.
The researchers had seven female players between the ages of 12 and 14 deliver stick blows to the heads of dummies. (Admittedly girls do not intentionally hit opponents in the head in the game.) “The kinds of hits recorded were basically aggressive street fights,” Crisco told Medical News Today. “They were really whacking at it, every shaft was broken by the end of the study, which would never happen in a game. The goal was just to give US Lacrosse and the manufacturers some baseline information on the types of accelerations they could expect to see in a worst-case scenario.”
When the players delivered blows to the side of the dummies’ heads with no headgear, the peak accelerations averaged 81.6g. The peak accelerations averaged 150.7g for blows to the back of the head. When men’s lacrosse helmets were placed on the dummies, the accelerations dropped to 28.2g on the side and 23.1g on the back of the head.
When Crisco’s team tested other types of headgear – soft headgear designed specifically for lacrosse, MMA headgear, and rugby scrum caps – none reduced the accelerations as much as the men’s lacrosse helmets.
Should we adopt helmets in girls lacrosse or not?
Despite the data showing that these helmets might decrease impact for blows to the head, it doesn’t necessarily suggest that helmet use should be mandated. First, as I have discussed in articles on this site about football helmets, helmets do not necessarily prevent concussions. They have been shown to decrease the risk of skull fractures and subdural hematomas. On its website, US Lacrosse states that these injuries have not been reported in girls’ lacrosse.
Plus, there is concern that girls might play with more aggression if they wore helmets. It’s hard to know if more players would hit opponents in the head despite rules not allowing it, but it’s conceivable that more aggressive play would increase injuries in the sport.
Vincent HK, Zdziarski LA, Vincent KR. Review of lacrosse-related musculoskeletal injuries in high school and collegiate players. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Published online before print September 26, 2014.
Crisco JJ, Costa L, Rich R, Schwartz J, Wilcox B. Surrogate headform accelerations associated with stick checks in girls’ lacrosse. Journal of Applied Biomechanics. Published online before print. November 20, 2014.
Head blows measured in girls’ lacrosse. Medical News Today. December 3, 2014.