NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Injuries to the head and face are fairly common in women's field hockey, raising the question of whether players need more protective gear, according to researchers.
In a study of six college field hockey teams, researchers found that of 253 athletes followed for two seasons, 22.5 percent suffered an injury to the head or face -- including lacerations, bruises, concussions and broken facial bones.
Most of the injuries -- 89 percent -- were the result of a player being struck by a field hockey stick or ball.
The findings are a "concern," the researchers report in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, because such injuries can be serious -- potentially causing long-term problems such as post-concussive syndrome or vision loss.
"Prevention measures, including better protective equipment for the head and face, may help reduce future head and facial injuries in these athletes," write Dr. C. Daniel Hendrickson and his colleagues at the University of Michigan Athletics in Ann Arbor.
Women's field hockey has been steadily increasing in popularity since the 1980s, the researchers note. Some experts, they add, have argued that rule changes made 10 years ago, intended to make the game faster-paced and higher-scoring, have increased players' risk of injury.
To investigate college-level injury rates, Hendrickson's team followed six Division I teams over two field hockey seasons. Among the 253 athletes in the study, there were 62 head and facial injuries during that time.
Lacerations and bruising accounted for more than half of the injuries, while 18 percent were concussions and 13 percent involved broken facial bones. Broken or displaced teeth accounted for 6 percent of the injuries.
Experts already recommend that field hockey players wear custom-fitted mouth guards to protect against dental injuries. There have also been calls for college field hockey to follow the example of collegiate lacrosse, which requires players to use protective eyewear, Hendrickson and his colleagues point out.
The current findings, the researchers add, raise the question of whether more-substantial protective gear, such as the full facial protection worn in ice hockey, might be necessary.
"Although mandating protective equipment might meet resistance," they write, "the potential benefits seem to support further study of this issue."
SOURCE: Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, September 2008.