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Health & Safety
| Sep 02, 2020

Pandemic Puts Pause on USL Funded Women’s Headgear Research

By Paul Ohanian

As we all know, the COVID pandemic has caused a major interruption in lacrosse activity. No games, no practices, lost seasons. 

The stoppage of play has not only impacted players, coaches and officials, but it’s also disrupted the work of researchers like Dr. Dan Herman at the University of Florida, who study the game for scientific purposes.

Since early 2019, Herman and his team have been collecting data to examine the effectiveness of women’s headgear in minimizing the risk of injury among high school girls players. Unfortunately, Herman has had to hit pause on his research as the data input has dried up. 

“The pandemic certainly changed our plans,” Herman said.

Supported by funding from both US Lacrosse and NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment), the two-year study was set to conclude in 2020. It has now been pushed to 2021, with Herman hoping for additional data collection in the spring and a full review of the results announced next fall.

When the findings are finally released, Herman’s study will provide the most definitive analysis to date on lacrosse specific women’s headgear

“People are definitely interested in getting some answers, but we’re not going to do any interim analysis,” he said. “We’re keeping the data close to the vest right now, but the answers will be coming.”

The key question, of course, is whether women’s certified headgear that meets ASTM standard F3137 can reduce the risk of head injuries, and specifically, concussions. Secondarily, the research seeks to inform about all other injuries, including those that may potentially increase as unintended consequences of headgear use.

“We have confidence in our ability to obtain solid results,” Herman said.

That confidence is based largely on the methodology of the study, which utilizes the online High School NATION injury surveillance system. Only trained sports medicine professionals, primarily athletic trainers, input the injury data that Herman’s team is utilizing.

“We’re using a well-entrenched system,” he said.

Dr. Andrew Lincoln, a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee and a co-investigator on Herman’s research team, notes that previous headgear examinations have been based on much smaller samples, with findings that have been, in some cases, inconclusive or anecdotal. 

“To date, we have some lab studies, but we don’t have good evidence that involves players’ or opponents’ behavior while wearing headgear,” Lincoln said. “Some of the previous studies have been limited to testing headgear in a lab. This study will hopefully give us a better understanding of what will happen on the field.”

In some cases, researchers have relied on injury data collected from other sports, such as soccer, to predict outcomes in lacrosse, or they have compared injury rates in men’s lacrosse to women’s lacrosse and utilized the epidemiology to make recommendations.

“To look at a different sport, like soccer, and assume that you will have similar results in lacrosse is going way too far,” Herman said. 

Following years of research and development, during which time US Lacrosse coordinated collaboration among experts from the lacrosse industry, epidemiologists, physicians, and bio-mechanists, the women’s lacrosse headgear performance standard (F3137) was approved by ASTM in 2015. 

The ASTM standard was the first-ever performance standard for women’s lacrosse headgear and was developed to help reduce impact forces associated with stick and ball contact in women’s lacrosse. Upon its approval, equipment manufacturers began designing and producing headgear products that met the new standard.

Effective January 1, 2017, US Lacrosse playing rules mandated that if headgear was used, it must meet the new ASTM standard. This standard has been adopted for all levels of play. The rules also note that girls’ headgear use remains voluntary for high school players in all states, other than Florida. 

Both Herman and Lincoln noted that recommendations put forward to utilize men’s lacrosse headgear in the women’s game, as was recently suggested by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and the University of Colorado Denver, are premature and lacking in sufficient supporting evidence. Prior research has validated that the two sports have mechanisms of injury that are very different.

“It’s important that we consider and evaluate the women’s headgear device before we consider something that is essentially used for a different sport,” Lincoln said. “Our goal is to provide the scientific evidence for governing bodies, like US Lacrosse and the NCAA, to use to establish policies.”

Once completed, the new research will be used to inform decision-makers about continued improvements to game safety for all players.

“We are especially grateful for the work that Dr. Herman and his cohorts are doing on this important topic,” said Caitlin Kelley, women’s game director at US Lacrosse. “Through the work of both our Sports Science and Safety Committee and our Rules Committee, US Lacrosse is committed to developing rules and strategies to minimize the injury risk for athletes. We want to make the most informed decisions we can and utilize data specific to the women’s game as we shape existing rules and equipment. This study respects the specificity of women’s lacrosse and the thoughtful work and research that has gone into the ASTM standard and the development of appropriate equipment.”