The 2011 national mandate requiring all high school field hockey players wear protective eyewear has resulted in a greater than three-fold reduced risk of eye and orbital injuries in girls, according to a new study. Published online Aug. 17 in the journal Pediatrics, the research also put to rest critics concerns that the eyewear would limit peripheral vision and contribute to a rise in concussions.
Each academic year more than 64,000 girls participate in high school-sanctioned filed hockey in the U.S. The protective eyewear mandate issued by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), however, only requires the gear be used in NFHS-sanctioned competitions. Protective eyewear remains voluntary in non-NFHS competitions and other organizations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
For the study, researchers led by principal investigator and co-author, Peter Kriz, MD, a sports medicine physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., compared girls’ injuries in national and regional high school databases from two seasons before and two seasons after the 2011 mandate.
Findings showed that in the 206 high schools involved in the study over the four-year period, female field hockey players sustained 415 injures to the eyes, face and head. Eye injuries included eyebrow or eyelid lacerations, bruises around the orbit of the eye, and corneal abrasions.
Among those who were injured, eye and orbital injuries were significantly higher in states without mandated protective eyewear (MPE) than in states with MPE. Without MPE, there were approximately eight injuries per 100,000 practices and games. With the MPE requirement, there were approximately 2.5 injuries per 100,000 practices and games.
Overall, there was a 67 percent drop in severe eye and orbital injuries in the group that wore the protective eyewear, and a 70 percent reduction in medically disqualifying head and face injuries. In addition, there was no significant difference in concussion rates for the two groups.
“Critics of protective eyewear in field hockey have voiced concerns that the eyewear increases concussion rates due to loss of peripheral vision and increased player contact. Our study found that concussion rates did not change as a result of the national MPE,” Kriz said in a news release.
Peripheral vision is not the only concern of MPE critics. Because no other country mandates protective eyewear, college, developmental and national level field hockey coaches and programs have expressed concern that MPE will jeopardize international recruitment efforts. They fear mandated protective eyewear will hurt the ability of the U.S. national teams to remain competitive nationally.
Kriz and his colleagues hope the study will change minds.
“Given the scientific evidence demonstrating that mandatory protective eyewear effectively reduces eye injuries in field hockey players without increasing concomitant injury such as concussion, research now exists to support a policy change regarding mandatory protective equipment in field hockey at all amateur levels, including developmental, college, national and international levels,” Kriz told Reuters Health.
Andrew Lincoln, ScD, director of MedStar Sports Medicine Research Center in Maryland, agrees. “When we obtain strong evidence as provided in this study, we should adopt the policy as widely as possible,” he said.