Are Full-Face Shields Making Ice Hockey a More Dangerous Sport?
Dec. 21, 1999 (Atlanta) -- In the fast, aggressive sport of ice hockey, the
number of high-impact collisions has led many colleges to make full-face masks
mandatory. However, the nearly simultaneous increase in concussions and neck
injuries has sparked a debate. Are the masks creating a 'gladiator mentality'
that puts athletes at risk?
In a study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical
Association, a group of sports medicine specialists tracked several hundred
players' injuries over one season and found that full-face shields have
not increased the risk of neck injuries. In fact, they had the added
benefit of significantly reducing the risk of facial and dental injuries.
There was no evidence of 'gladiator mentality,' study author Willem H.
Meeuwisse, MD, PhD, of the University of Calgary Sport Medicine Centre, tells
WebMD in an interview. "We looked at whether overall injury rates were
different and they were not. We saw the same amount of aggressive behavior and
other injuries [whether they were wearing full or partial shields]."
The study involved 642 male ice hockey players in 22 different teams, all of
whom were about 22 years old and playing in the 1997-1998 Canadian
Inter-University Athletics Union hockey season. About half the athletes wore
full-face shields during the play season, while the other half wore half-face
Of the 319 athletes who wore full-face shields, 195 had at least one injury
during the season, while of the 323 who wore half-face shields, 204 were
"Although we found a significant difference in rates of head and facial
injuries between the two groups, there was no significant difference in risk of
sustaining a concussion, neck, or other injury (overall) for athletes wearing
half shields compared with those wearing full-face shields," says
Meeuwisse. "Basically, we showed that full-face shields are a good idea and
don't have any measurable downside."
The study also found that, for those wearing the half-shield, the risk of
facial laceration was nearly 2.5 times greater than with full shields. The risk
of dental injury was 10 times higher with half-shields. Time lost from
participation because of concussion was significantly greater in those who wore
While half-shield players were at greater risk of facial lacerations,
Meeuwisse points out, those with the full-face shield had lacerations, too --
but they tended to be 'burst' or crush-type injuries at the chin. "With the
half-shield, the lacerations tended to be around the mouth and the eye and were
potentially a lot more serious."
The number of concussions was not significant, says Meeuwisse, but the
severity was worse in players with half-shields. "We didn't look at
specifically why, but with the full-face shield, the helmet is actually
anchored on the head by the shield because it cups the chin. With the
half-shield, it can slip back and expose the forehead."