Vulgar Opinions: Hockey Helmets – Cage Versus Visor Versus Nothing
For all the talk on concussions and how to treat them across levels of hockey, the research into what sort of protective equipment can best reduce them has been surprisingly un-thorough. There are several types of new helmets in most sports that are said to better protect the head, but what I haven’t seen is a study done to determine which type of facial protection is to hockey players’ largest overall benefit. You can Google this question a variety of ways and come up with few studies and all sorts of conflicting opinions.
One thing that is not up for debate is that the more facial protection a player has, the fewer facial injuries, such as lacerations or broken teeth, they suffer. With that in mind, here are the advantages and disadvantages of each type:
- Unhindered field of vision
- Head is smallest possible target
- More susceptible to facial injuries (7 times vs. a full cage according to the link above)
- Unknown whether increased field of vision leads to fewer concussions
- Good field of vision
- Protects eyes to a degree
- Does not protect jaw
- Eyes can still be hit
- Visor can still be broken
- Unknown whether increased field of vision (compared to a full cage) leads to fewer concussions
- Largest amount of protection
- Smallest field of vision
- Head is a larger target
- Facial impacts are directed into forehead and jaw
- Cage can still be broken
- Unknown whether additional protection leads to fewer concussions
- Unknown whether compensation effect (playing more dangerously) leads to more injuries
The number of advantages or disadvantages shouldn’t be take to suggest any of the above as better than the other. Most of them are speculative with little or no research to back them up (or refute them). The 2002 study referenced above did not find a statistically significant reduction in the number of concussions with a full cage. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means their study wasn’t big enough.
The OHL and USHL have taken the opposite stance recently, giving players the option of a half-visor to allow them a greater field of vision. Whether or not this will be effective is obviously debatable.
I have never worn any sort of facial protection playing recreational ice and inline hockey. I always felt that the gain in vision outweighed the facial protection aspect. I’ve taken one or two high sticks to the face with no ill effect, and did chip a tooth last year. That incident made me consider a cage for the first time (and led me to this same research then). Ultimately I figured that the force of the impact (a guy landed on my head and drove it into the inline surface) may have been enough to give me a concussion had I been wearing a cage. When the research is as muddy as it is above, I would rather give myself the best means for avoiding an injurious situation than have extra protection. Extreme cases with obvious benefits are different, you won’t ever catch me every playing without gloves, shin guards, a helmet, pants, and a cup.
That having been said, I’m not at all opposed to the use of cages or visors. My inclination for amateur play would be to ban black-barred cages completely (in my experience they are much worse than silver barred cages in terms of visibility) and give players a choice between half and full visors and cages at the highest levels.