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Head Injuries, Hockey Helmets, and ASTM Standards

Clyde Sharpe President of International Sales for Elasto Proxy

Lars Eller InjuredImage source: www.montrealgazette.com

Playoff hockey challenges you physically, mentally, and emotionally. This year’s strike-shortened season is no exception. Just ask any of the players on the 16 National Hockey League (NHL) teams that entered the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After playing 48 hard-hitting games in just 98 days, these skaters and stick-handlers don’t want to rest tired legs or nurse injuries. They want to raise the Cup!

Concussions and Hockey Head Injuries

Then there’s Lars Eller, the Danish-born center for the Montreal Canadiens. After sustaining an illegal hit from Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba, Eller collapsed on the ice. Along with a concussion and loss of consciousness, the Canadiens star suffered facial and dental fractures. Eller recently skated again at Montreal’s practice facility, a simple act that delighted hockey fans who expect championships.

Hockey can be dangerous sport. Head injuries aren’t new, but attitudes are changing and reporting is improving. During the late 1990s, Philadelphia Flyers captain Eric Lindros was criticized for sitting out games after sustaining concussions. By 2011, no one wanted to rush Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby back onto the ice.  So was Crosby’s concussion a game-changer for hockey head trauma?

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Hockey Headgear

The NHL has tightened rules about hits to the head, but Lars Eller’s concussion is just the latest injury in a pro sport where some players start fights by trying to rip the hockey helmet from an opponent’s head. Today, youth hockey players are also at risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to a recent study by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, 43% of all TBIs among Canadian children involve ice hockey.

Could better hockey protective gear prevent head injuries and protect players from health problems such as migraines, memory loss, and depression? How can the NHL preserve the excitement of playoff hockey while ensuring that hockey players don’t face their post-career years with physical, mental, and emotional challenges? How well are hockey helmets designed, manufactured, and tested today?

ASTM Standards and Hockey Helmets

ASTM is a standards organization that’s better known for industry specifications such as ASTM D2000, which provides buyers and suppliers with a standard way to describe rubber. Yet ASTM also publishes ASTM F1045, a performance specification for ice hockey helmets. This standard establishes minimum areas of the head that a hockey helmet must cover, and defines the number and size of openings.

ASTM evaluates helmet performance by testing the chinstrap for elongation and strength, and by testing the helmet liner for impact absorption. All tests involve attaching a helmet to a head form that simulates a different size of the human head. By placing the helmet on a head form and applying a load, the test simulates the chin bone structure and tests the retention system.

ASTM also evaluates the strength and elongation properties of the helmet strap. To test hockey head gear for impact absorption, helmet and head form are dropped onto a hard, flat surface. Instruments are then used to measure the force that’s transmitted from the helmet to the head form. Since hockey is played at different indoor and outdoor conditions, these tests are performed at various temperatures.

Concussions and Conclusions

Are the NHL’s standards for hockey helmets adequate for today’s bigger, faster, stronger players and hard hitting games? Should the league work more closely with standards organizations  such as ASTM to ensure that players are better protected from concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI)? Before any NHL team hoists the next Stanley Cup, I hope that all players will receive this consideration.