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May 9, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Doctor: Study Supports Eliminating Full Shields

by Dr. Joel Bunn/Special to CHN

As a health science researcher and sports medicine clinician, I am in agreement with the coaches that removing full-shields and wearing three-quarter visors will likely decrease blows to the head.

Intuitively, one would think that more protection to the face and head would equate to less face and head injuries. However, more protection often gives players a sense of security that they are unlikely to be hurt and that they will be less likely to hurt other players. This was the case in a retrospective five-year study of East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) players to determine if half-visors protect the upper half of the face more effectively than no protection.

A stratified sample of ECHL players was obtained by retrospectively reviewing the medical records of the 1999-2000, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04, and 2004-05 seasons of the Johnstown Chiefs minor professional hockey team and those players injured while playing against the Chiefs at the War Memorial arena. An equal number of ECHL players who suffered injuries involving the upper half of the face with and without half-visor protection were collected in consecutive order by date of injury starting in 1999 and ending in 2005. A total of 186 ECHL players were identified with injuries to the upper-half of the face (93 wore half-visors and 93 wore no protection).

This study builds upon previous research by uniquely comparing facial injuries that only involve the upper half of the face with and without half-visor protection. Only the injuries that involved the upper-half of the face were included because this is the area of the face that theoretically should have been protected by the half-visor.

The findings consistently showed that the frequency of injuries and injury severity scores by type, mechanism, and location were consistently higher among the half-visor group compared to the no visor group. The injury severity scores were consistently larger among the half-visor group. Facial injuries by location showed that there were more eye, cheek, and forehead injuries among the half-visor group compared to the no protection group.

The evidence from this study suggests that the half-visor is no more protective, and in some cases less protective than no protection. The results indicate that players wearing half-visors are playing with a false sense of protection. These findings support the hypothesis that half-visors ineffectively protect the upper half of the face against common facial injury mechanisms among ECHL players.

Just like the half-visor, playing with a full-shield will likely give players a false sense of protection with regard to head protection. Subsequently, playing with less concern for blows to the head. Less concern for head injuries will potentially increase the risk for concussions. In addition, more protection to the head and face may provide players with the feeling that they can use their head as a weapon.

With that being said, as a health science researcher and sportsmedicine provider, I would strongly consider removing the full-shield to decrease the risk of head injuries.

Joel Bunn, PhD, PA
Adjunct Assistant Professor Saint Francis University
Sportsmedicine, Emergency Medicine, and Interventional Radiology Physician Assistant at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johnstown PA 15905

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