Chest Protectors May Not Protect Athletes
May 21, 2004 -- The chest protectors worn by catchers in youth
baseball may not be enough to protect them from sudden death caused by the
impact of a baseball to the chest.
A new study shows the foam and hard plastic chest protectors
were ineffective in protecting against chest wall impact, a common cause of
sudden cardiac death among athletes.
The impact of the blow can trigger an irregular heartbeat that
causes the heart to stop functioning. Researchers say the findings may help
explain why 28% of the sudden cardiac death cases reported among baseball
players occurred despite wearing a commercially available chest protector.
Experts say these findings should be alarming information for
"Improvements are needed for chest wall protectors to
prevent sudden cardiac death from taking the lives of young athletes," says
Michael E. Cain, MD, president of the Heart Rhythm Society, in a news
Chest Protectors Ineffective?
In the study, presented this week at the Heart Rhythm Society's
25th Annual Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, researchers compared the
effectiveness of seven commercial foam and hard plastic chest protectors in
preventing irregular heartbeats caused by a 40 mile per hour blow to the chest
in anesthetized animals.
Researchers found irregular heartbeats caused by the impact
occurred in 12 of 38 (32%) of the blows to the chest in animals without any
protection. But the frequency of irregular heart beats induced by the blows was
not reduced by using the chest protectors.
Potentially life-threatening heart irregularities occurred in
25% to 49% of the impacts, depending on which chest protector was used.
Researchers say none of the chest protectors differed significantly in reducing
the risk of irregular heartbeat with baseball impacts compared with no
protection at all.
Researchers say the findings suggest that improved design and
materials may enhance protection against a chest wall blow and improve
prevention of sudden cardiac death among young athletes.