Ann Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse, sat down with Lacrosse Magazine in its May 2016 edition for a Q-and-A on helmets in lacrosse and the new performance standard for headgear in the women’s game. Below is an edited version of the interview. To start your subscription to LM, become a member of US Lacrosse today.

Why doesn’t women’s lacrosse require helmets like men’s lacrosse?

Helmets, as used in football, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, are designed primarily to mitigate impacts caused by body-to-body collisions and to address skull fractures and catastrophic head injuries that result from such collisions. They are not designed to prevent concussions. The injury surveillance research collected and published by medical experts on US Lacrosse’s Sports Science and Safety Committee, as well as by the 10-year NFHS injury surveillance program (RIO), have shown us that while concussions occur in women’s lacrosse, skull fractures and catastrophic head injuries do not. That’s not surprising, as intentional body-to-body contact is not legal in women’s lacrosse. Studies have shown us that the focal impacts and energy forces created when sticks and balls hit the head are not equivalent to the impact forces and rotational impacts created when a 250-pound man runs into the body or head of another man.

What prompted US Lacrosse to pursue a performance standard for women’s lacrosse headgear?

The rules of the women’s game, at all levels of play, allow for soft headgear to be worn. But without an evidenced-based performance standard that demonstrates that a product was developed and tested to address those specific impacts most frequently seen in the game, the benefits and risks to those players wearing headgear remained unknown at best. US Lacrosse led a multi-year endeavor to bring together experts from the industry, epidemiologists, physicians, bio mechanists and the lacrosse community to establish an ASTM women’s lacrosse headgear performance standard, which would help in mitigating forces to the head created by stick and ball impacts. The standard (F3137) was approved May 21, 2015, at ASTM’s bi-annual meeting. The standard is neither a design standard nor a rule; it is not meant to mandate headgear as part of the uniform, but instead creates guidelines as to what constitutes a safe and proper piece of equipment for the sport.

What is the headgear standard designed to do?

It has allowed for the development of protective equipment that will meet specific mechanisms of injury and risks of the game while minimizing injury risk to other players. The word “soft” does not appear in the standard, as the standard was developed with little regard to aesthetics. It is focused on addressing and minimizing the impacts created from a stick and ball. The headgear standard has not been designed to address concussions or catastrophic head injuries.

Will headgear be mandatory?

As of now, no rulemaking body in women’s lacrosse has expressed an interest in mandating the use of ASTM F3137 headgear. Until players begin wearing approved headgear on the field — and we can study the impact of the equipment intervention on injury rates and behavior — US Lacrosse would not recommend that any local governing body or public health organization mandate protective headgear for women’s lacrosse. It should be noted, however, that only headgear meeting the ASTM standard will be legal for play.

What is the best approach to reducing injuries?

A holistic approach. That means promoting US Lacrosse-specific education for coaches and officials, leading rule changes to minimize and penalize contact to the head, funding peer-reviewed and published lacrosse injury research, developing evidenced-based protective equipment standards, publicizing concussion management guidelines and providing other educational materials for the lacrosse-playing public. Last year, Congress introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, H.R. 267, recognizing US Lacrosse for its work in lacrosse safety and education.

Is women’s lacrosse a safe sport?

Women’s lacrosse is a comparatively safe sport. In the 2014-15 NFHS RIO Report tracking sports injuries, girls’ lacrosse had fewer injuries than basketball, field hockey and soccer. Lacrosse was the only sport in which girls had a lower injury rate than boys playing the sport. The primary injuries are non-contact ankle and knee ligament sprains for both girls (21 percent of all lost-time injuries) and boys (16 percent). Head and face injuries, including concussion, happen less frequently but represent important issues that US Lacrosse remains committed to minimizing.

Concussion Awareness

US Lacrosse has published numerous pieces of content on the mechanisms, recognition, and treatment of concussions.

Learn More