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Dec. 23, 2015 — A movie to watch, but carefully

Day after tomorrow, the movie Concussion hits the silver screen. It is a biopic of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who finds a similar brain degeneration in football players, possibly caused by repeated trauma, including concussions.

This morning, there was a discussion about concussions in sports on a radio call-in show in Philadelphia called Radio Times. What I find heartening is that Kristy Arbogast, the co-scientific director for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said very clearly that the primary purpose of the helmet in sports is to prevent skull fractures, and not to prevent or lessen concussions.

The movie is likely to stir discussions about not only the place of football in our culture, but the role of concussion protocols in other sports.

I’m also hoping, however, that the science around headwear will come around to a point where simply slapping on a piece of headgear will prevent all concussions or all head injuries.

Indeed, when you look at some of the latest U.S. college sport concussion data, one of the sports with the highest rate of concussions is wrestling — a sport which already has mandatory headgear in the NCAA.

Now, in the world of field hockey and women’s lacrosse, I have known several participants who have received repeated head injuries without much protection from the current helmets they wear.

Those participants are goalies.

Field hockey goalies often “log,” or lie on their sides, to cover a maximum amount of area of the 18-inch goal board. I’ve known more than one goalie to have to sit out a game because of repeated balls hitting the goalie in the helmet.

In women’s lacrosse, I have known one good Division I goalie who was physically battered into retirement from having been pinged in the helmet one too many times, especially in unstructured play against men’s players.

I’d like to see the rulesmakers for the two sports allow some kind of harness or padding that prevents the head from snapping backwards when a ball strikes the helmet. Actually, I’d like to see some kind of padding, similar to a full neck roll in American football, tested out in game conditions with accelerometers to assess their efficacy in preventing head trauma in field hockey and lacrosse goalies.

Will that happen? Given the science now being brought to bear in terms of concussions, I hope that sensible testing can be planned and executed.

 

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