The Influence of Environment and Regular use on Football Equipment Over a Full Season of Participation and its Relation to Face Mask Removal Efficiency

Principle Investigator: Erik E. Swartz, Ph.D.

Institution: University of New Hampshire, NH

Title: The Influence of Environment and Regular use on Football Equipment Over a Full Season of Participation and its Relation to Face Mask Removal Efficiency.

Abstract: Football helmets meet specific standards in order to prevent injury to the head. However, the helmet, face mask, and loop strap themselves prevent access to the airway following a potentially catastrophic injury. Recent research has established that the design of football equipment has a deleterious effect on the ability to gain airway access during a suspected spine injury (SI). However, the research has been performed using new, unused, equipment and therefore its clinical applicability to equipment that has been used throughout a season is limited, specifically regarding the probable effects from the environment and daily wear and tear. There are potentially multiple factors that could negatively affect football helmet equipment leading to greater difficulty in removing the face mask in the event of an emergency SI situation. Currently, there has not been any reported research regarding these potential effects on face mask removal efficiency. Emergency personnel such as physicians, athletic trainers, and paramedics who are faced with an emergency SI situation would face greater challenges delivering care to an athlete who is wearing equipment that causes face mask removal to become difficult or even impossible. Further, any research that can provide information regarding specific influencing factors could be used to develop standards or protocols in order to ensure a greater chance for removal of the face mask.

Therefore, the objective of this study is to analyze the efficiency of face mask removal from helmets that have been used through a full season.

The specific aims of the project are to:

  1. Assess the ability to remove face masks following one season of play in high school football helmets using a cordless screwdriver. The secondary purpose of the study will be to identify factors that affect the football helmet and associated hardware in relation to the ability to remove the face mask. Factors of interest that will be measured include:
    1. Regional environmental factors related to climate including average temperature, rainfall, humidity, barometric pressure, and proximity to coastal waters
    2. Location of loop-strap fasteners being the left lower, right lower, left upper, and right upper attachments.
    3. Type of material helmet hardware (screws, t-nuts, washers, etc.) is constructed from (i.e., stainless steel, carbon steel, grade of steel, etc.)
    4. Football helmet equipment assembly characteristics (i.e., internal washers, internal t-nut walls, plastic/rubber friction fit, etc.)
    5. High school demographics including athletic personnel (equipment manager(s), athletic trainers, assistant coaches), school size/classification, team budget, playing surface, etc.

The identification of any factors experienced throughout a full season of high school football participation that might inhibit airway management will help NOCSAE meet its goals of maintaining safety in athletic equipment design. This investigation could have wide-ranging impact for participants in football at every competitive level. All members of the sports medicine team could immediately benefit from the findings of this study.