Monday, May 30, 2011
The Great Mask Debate
It doesn’t take much to see the public’s increased awareness about the dangers and long-term effects of concussions in sport. Just read the paper or search the web and you’ll see where a state legislature or local school district has passed a law or approved a new rule regarding testing and return to play guidelines following a mild traumatic brain injury.
Likewise, the sport of baseball has also updated with the times. This season, Major League Baseball implemented the 7-Day Disabled List to be used exclusively with those players diagnosed with a concussion. MLB has also tightened its diagnosis and return to play guidelines. Both a physical exam and neuro-psychological testing that must be submitted to the league’s medical director prior to a player’s clearance to return to play.
With all the increased awareness, one of the first lines of defense in the prevention of these injuries is still the protective equipment. The catcher in baseball is perhaps the most susceptible to repetitive trauma both from foul tips and the hitter’s backswing. There are typically two types of masks that that a catcher uses: the traditional cage and helmet, and the hockey-style.
Currently, there is no published study that distinguishes one mask as better than the other. Students in an Experimental Mechanics Class at Kettering University have been working to find an answer. After testing both mask styles for frontal impact (simulating a foul tip) and side impact (representing a backswing impact), the students concluded “Overall, the testing would support the theory that a traditional style catcher’s mask would protect better against a foul-tip and a hockey style catcher’s mask would protect better against a hitter’s backswing.”
As a sports medicine provider who works with the baseball athlete, it has been my experience that far more foul tips are experienced than backswings. Although the engineering students suggest that the traditional mask system needs to be improved in the area of the helmet, I would still recommend the traditional cage system over the hockey-style mask for the prevention of repetitive trauma to catchers and umpires.
David Yeager, ATC, CSCS