Best Practices: Use Appropriate Equipment
As I think about getting my young children involved in lacrosse, the first thing I think is, "Holy cow, I have to get them all that equipment." The temptation is to take hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors to reduce the cost and inconvenience. But this is a not a wise or even financially prudent step.
Let's first talk about helmets for boys. The days of helmet hand-me-downs are over, and if they are not, they should be. But let's first demystify certain promises made by some helmet profiteers. Yes, helmets can increase safety and protect against skull fractures in many cases. But, helmets cannot protect our kids from concussions caused by a rotation or whip lash effect as a result of a hit to the body. In our work at the Youth Sports Concussion Clinic up here in Boston at Mass General Hospital, we often use the example of a car accident. Imagine that you are wearing your seatbelt and the driver slams on the breaks. The seatbelt may prevent you from hitting your head on the dashboard and fracturing your skull, but the whip lash and jolt to the brain as your body is thrown back and forth can, in itself, cause a concussion. A helmet cannot protect against this.
It is important to note that US Lacrosse is taking considerable steps to reduce the amount of hitting and contact in the youth game and is actively examining further ways to protect our kids from concussion. (Please refer to our recent youth sports position paper.) In the meantime, even though helmets do not fully protect our kids from concussions, it is still wise to purchase a new,well-fitting helmet. Wearing a helmet that does not fit well can lead to injuries to the face, head and neck as a result of a bad hit. Loose-fitting helmets may also increase the risk of concussion either by impact or by the rotation of the head. Having a hard piece of equipment (your poorly fitting helmet) bang into your head or face magnified by the force of a hit can exacerbate the injury.
Similar arguments can be made for protective eye wear in the girls' game. Poorly fitting eye wear may also increase risk for injury to the eye as the apparatus may move significantly as a result of contact. And while there are many different types of mouth guards, finding one that fits and consistently "wearing it," really does protect our kids' teeth. Often, however, we see kids cut their mouth guards or find ways to not wear them, either in games or practices. These conveniences and/or short-cuts can have negative health and financial consequences.
Injury prevention is also enhanced by proper gloves, arm pads, shoulder pads and even shoes. A girl or boy lacrosse player who wears over-sized shoes is vulnerable to tripping and/or poor footing that can cause injury in addition to the calluses and blisters that may occur. Some children may benefit from cushions or orthotics in their cleats as these types of shoes typically lack enough support for their developing and active feet. And suiting up your young boy with inherited, oversized shoulder pads from his older brother or cousin, may reduce his maneuverability and increase his vulnerability to shoulder injuries.
While many of these suggestions are common sense, it is important that parents take the time before the beginning of each season (I am saying this to myself so I follow these principles with my kids) and make sure that their child's equipment fits. Given how quickly kids can grow and how little time we often have to even get our kids to practice on time, it is easy to see how some of these changes in our children's bodies may go unnoticed. We encourage families to take the time, perhaps during the winter months, to review their equipment status and ensure that everything fits and is up-to-date, before the season starts. We can't always prevent injuries, but there are common sense steps we can take to reduce them, keeping our kids engaged in their sport throughout the season and over time.
US Lacrosse, Inc. ©2012