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Study: Protective Eyewear Lowers Injury Risk in H.S. Field Hockey

High school student-athletes who wear protective eyewear while playing field hockey have an 80 percent lower rate of eye injuries and a 32 percent lower rate of total head and face injuries, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) began requiring all high school field hockey players to wear protective eyewear starting with the 2011-12 season, per a recommendation from the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Previously, only six states had mandated the use of protective eyewear for all student-athletes playing high school field hockey.

This study, conducted by a group of doctors and assorted medical experts spread out across the United States, examined eye injuries in high school field hockey players in 14 states during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Unsurprisingly, student-athletes in states that mandated eye protection had far fewer injuries to their eyes or face than student-athletes in states that made eye protection optional. Of the 212 injuries to the face, eyes, and head that were recorded, only 31 of those injuries occurred in athletes who lived in states with an eyewear mandate, while the other 181 occurred in athletes who lived in states where protective eyewear was optional.

Players in states without a protective eyewear mandate had a 5.33-fold higher risk of eye injury than those in states that required eye protection, according to the study. Only one eye injury was reported in a state that required eye protection, while 21 eye injuries were reported in states that didn't require protective eyewear.

Concussion rates were similar between the two groups, the researchers found.

"This study adds to an accumulating body of evidence, most recently demonstrated in high school women's lacrosse, that mandated protective eyewear effectively and significantly reduces the rates of head and facial injuries in contact and collision sports," said Dr. Peter Kriz, one of the study's co-authors and a sports medicine physician at the Providence, R.I.-based Hasbro Children's Hospital, in a statement. "We now have a large, national study that provides evidence that protective eyewear is indeed effective in reducing head and facial injuries, including eye and orbital injuries, which validates the decisions of rules committees such as the NFHS to mandate protective eyewear use in high school field hockey and other sports."

The researchers suggest further investigation into whether protective eyewear can decrease the risk of eye injuries for field hockey players on college and/or national teams.

Critics of protective eyewear in field hockey often argue that such eyewear limits athletes' peripheral vision, which could potentially jeopardize the athletes' safety. Steve Locke, executive director of USA Field Hockey, also raised the concern last year of protective eyewear making athletes "feel impervious to injury."

"It is sort of a Superwoman/man feel that can result in athletes taking risks that without the protective gear they would not take," Locke wrote in April 2011 on the USA Field Hockey website. "This behavior not only places the risk-taking athlete in line for injury, but potentially others that the athlete may encounter in the process."

Dawn Comstock, one of Kriz's co-authors, shot down these concerns in a statement, saying "Our study challenges this perception. We found no increase in the rate of concussions or player-to-player contact injuries in states that mandated protective eyewear."

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