Lacrosse has quickly become one of the most popular youth and high school sports here in Charleston. It has spread just as rapidly throughout the United States. In fact, there are currently more than 170,000 high school lacrosse players in the United States. As more athletes decide to play lacrosse, it will be important to evaluate its rules and equipment to minimize the risk of lacrosse injuries.
Rule differences between boys’ and girls’ lacrosse
One unique aspect of lacrosse is that the sport has different rules and equipment requirements for girls than boys. Boys’ lacrosse allows stick and body checking, while those actions are not part of the girls’ sport. Additionally boys must wear a helmet, shoulder pads, mouthguard and padded gloves. Girls must only wear a mouth guard and protective eyewear.
Two studies recently published shine light on lacrosse injuries. One of the studies, by lead author Joe Xiang and others, uses data collected from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System to analyze injuries in boys’ and girls’ high school lacrosse between the 2008–2009 and the 2011–2012 seasons. The other study, performed by Mark Webb and others, analyzes data on injuries in elite lacrosse based on those that occurred at the 2010 World Championships.
High school lacrosse injuries
• Contact with another player is the most common mechanism of injury, causing about one-third of the injuries. 22.8% resulted from no contact, while contact with a stick, the goal or net cause 19.0% of the injuries.
• 67.1% of lacrosse injuries affect boys.
• Competitions have a significantly higher rate of injuries in lacrosse than practices.
• The head and face (25.2%), leg/ankle/foot (25.2%), and the knee (12.4%) are the most commonly injured body areas.
• 35.4% of injuries in girls’ lacrosse affect the head and face. Almost 2/3 of concussions occurring in girls’ lacrosse result from contact with the playing apparatus or player-to-player contact.
Injuries in elite lacrosse
• 56% of the lacrosse injuries at the World Championships were contact injuries, compared to 44% that were noncontact injuries.
• 88% of the contact injuries were due to impact with a player or stick.
• The ankle was the most common body part injured, followed by the shoulder.
• Five times more injuries occurred in competition than in practices.
Tips to prevent lacrosse injuries
Based on these studies, here are some ideas that might help minimize the risk of injuries in lacrosse at all levels.
Consider equipment changes in girls’ lacrosse
Despite rules designed to eliminate stick checking, concussions and other head and face injuries occur in girls’ lacrosse. Girls currently must wear eye protection. Given the head injury data, it’s at least worth considering mandatory helmets for female lacrosse athletes.
Shoulder pad modifications
Shoulder injuries are among the most common lacrosse injuries, at least among elite players. Many of them are acromioclavicular injuries, which often results from direct blows or contact with other players. Current lacrosse shoulder pads are lighter and less protective than those of football and hockey, probably to allow more range of motion for throwing. Research into more effective pad designs might be worthwhile.
Also listen to this podcast discussion from The Dr. David Geier Show:
Episode 139: What are the common lacrosse injuries, and how can players prevent them? (starts at 5:42)
Ankle and lower extremity injury prevention programs
Ankle injuries, such as ankle sprains, are common in lacrosse. Teams of all ages and skill levels should consider having their players perform ankle injury prevention programs on a daily basis as part of their warm-ups. Plus many of the comprehensive lower extremity programs might prevent ACL and groin injuries.
Athletic trainers present at lacrosse games
Rates of lacrosse injuries are higher in games than in practices. This fact appears to exist at the high school level as well as elite levels. Athletic trainers are critical for evaluation and initial management of injuries. High schools should do whatever is necessary to have them at all lacrosse games (and practices, if possible). Tournaments at all levels should try to have athletic trainers and sports medicine orthopaedic surgeons and physicians available to assess and manage all lacrosse injuries.
Joe Xiang, Christy L. Collins, Daniel Liu, Lara B. McKenzie and R. Dawn Comstock. Lacrosse Injuries Among High School Boys and Girls in the United States: Academic Years 2008-2009 Through 2011-2012. American Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online July 22, 2014.
Mark Webb, Caroline Davis, Daniel Westacott, Robin Webb and Jessica Price. Injuries in Elite Men’s Lacrosse: An Observational Study During the 2010 World Championships. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014:2.