Want to cut concussions in the NHL? Build a better shoulder pad says SFU researcher
42% of concussions in the NHL are the result of a shoulder-to-head hits. A little more foam could change that
A mere two centimetres of foam rubber could make a big difference in saving the brains of NHL players according to a new study out of Simon Fraser University.
The research was motivated by the fact that 42 per cent of all concussions suffered in the NHL occur as a result of shoulder-to-head hits.
Researchers tested the force of shoulder-to-head hits generated by using players wearing stock shoulder pads versus ones modified with an extra layer of soft polyurethane foam on the outside of the shoulder cap.
"The approach we took is that hitting is part of the game, but it's problematic for brain health," said engineering science professor Stephen Robinovitch.
"Helmets are not designed to prevent concussion ... and rule changes in the NHL to avoid targeting the head have not resulted in a decrease in concussions. So we need to find a way to make the brain safer."
For the study, 15 hockey players from the SFU men's team and other hitting leagues were asked to throw "the hardest shoulder checks they were comfortable delivering" to the head a research dummy set up to measure force and impact.
On average, the dummy registered 25 per cent less head acceleration and 12 per cent less rotational force when hit by the pads modified with the extra foam.
Those reductions in force are important because concussions result from hits or whiplash movements to the head that are strong enough to make the brain to move and hit the opposite side of the scull.
"An additional layer of softer foam has a relatively huge effect on reducing the severity of a hit," said Robinovitch.
In fact, no player in the study was able to throw a hit wearing the modified shoulder pads that created a G-force of over 60, widely thought to be near the lowest threshold of force which can leave a player concussed.
Robinovitch says he hopes to present the study to the NHL and to hockey equipment manufacturers.
"This could be one tool in the toolbox to make the game safer."