Research In Action

Research In Action

Head Impacts, High School Lacrosse, and the Debate Over Helmets

In the sport of high school lacrosse, clear differences exist between the regulations and equipment in the female version of the game, compared to the male version. 

Rules of the sport typically allow male players to initiate stick checking and body contact, while female athletes have restrictions on intentional body and stick contact. This is likely the reason for increased rates of head injuries experienced by males when compared with females. 

Helmets are required to be worn by male lacrosse players, whereas protective headgear is typically optional for female players and only mandated in some competitions. Debate continues about whether protective headgear should be mandated in female lacrosse. A previous study by the Minds Matter Concussion Program showed that the most common impact sites for head injuries in female lacrosse are the side of the head, followed by the face and jaw. 

Building off those findings, our latest research monitored the head impacts of male and female high school lacrosse players using instrumented mouthguards across two seasons. The video-verified head impacts were computationally simulated using an advanced head model to understand the effects of these impacts on the brain itself. 

What We Examined 

This study focused on the analysis and comparison of kinematics (how the head moves during an impact) and brain tissue strains (how the shape of the brain deforms during an impact). Previous studies have analyzed peak kinematics of head acceleration events (HAEs) in high school lacrosse. However, there have been limitations in terms of the findings due to the accuracy of the data collected using technology such as helmet-mounted sensor systems and skin patches. 

By using instrumented mouthguards to gather this data, which have been found to have high accuracy in previous laboratory studies, we were able to better measure HAEs and their impacts on both male and female high school lacrosse players. 

What We Found 

Using our data, we were able to make comparisons regarding HAEs in other sports. We found that peak head kinematics and brain tissue strains of high school lacrosse players in the current study overlap with those recorded during soccer heading at the lower end and collegiate American football at the upper end. Concussion cases in high school and collegiate football had much greater brain tissue strains compared to high school lacrosse. 

The head impact rate for female players was only two-thirds of the rate for male players. Peak head kinematics and brain strains were generally lower for females compared to males, but the differences were not significant. This is even though male players were wearing helmets. 

This study advances the debate regarding protective headgear in female lacrosse with data that more accurately measures head impacts and translation of that information to quantify the brain’s response to those impacts. Parents, coaches, clinicians and athletes should use these findings to better understand the magnitude of head impacts in the sport (in comparison to head impacts in other sports) and make a more informed decision about the choice of protective headgear in female lacrosse.