Smart Players Protect Their Eyes

This archived article is from May 2006. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Dr. Tom Pashby, the internationally recognized ophthalmologist, has been keeping track of sports related eye injuries since 1972. His statistics show that ice hockey accounts for over 40 per cent of all eye injuries over those years. Racket sports, the second most common cause, account for about one-quarter of eye injuries. War games, which are relatively new, have resulted in 80 eye injuries, including 33 blindings.

Over four million Canadians play hockey. Men and women of all ages use rented ice surfaces, non-regulated community rinks, ponds, even roads. Adult amateurs comprise 85 per cent of non-competitive, recreational hockey players.

In the late 1970s the Canadian Hockey Association ruled that all minor league players must wear helmets and face masks certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). In 1981, the Canadian Hockey League made the same rule for its junior hockey players.

But only half of the hockey players in Canada fall under CHA or CHL jurisdiction. All other players are exempt from regulations requiring personal protection.

"Helmets and face protectors are not mandatory for most adult recreational players," notes Canada Safety Council president Emile Therien, "but that doesn't mean these players are immune to injury. Most injuries are entirely preventable by wearing protective equipment, without compromising the appeal and fun of the game."

Statistics clearly show that wearing protection prevents eye injuries. In the 1974-75 hockey season, before minor hockey players were required to wear face masks, there were 258 eye injuries including 43 blinded eyes; the average age of a player suffering an eye injury was 14. In the 1992-93 season only 31 players reported eye injuries, including four blinded eyes; the average age had risen to 33. In the 2001-2002 season, only four eye injuries were reported, including two blinded eyes. Mr. Therien credits this drop to the protection provided by the face masks.

A total of 311 eyes were blinded from 1972 to 2002. Not one of these injuries was suffered by a player wearing a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certified full-face protector. However, during the past few hockey seasons, nine players have suffered a blinding injury while wearing certified visors (half shields). In all cases, it is suspected the visors were not properly positioned. Helmets must be secured to the head by a taut chin cup, not a loose neck strap.

Some professional hockey players won't wear proper protective gear. Their excuse? Face protection is restrictive and could interfere with their performance. In the NHL alone, players not wearing a shield account for 95 per cent of all eye and face injuries requiring treatment.

The fact the big leagues have not made such equipment mandatory flies in the face of common sense, says Mr. Therien. "Not only that, it sets a terrible example for the public."

The Canada Safety Council recommends that hockey players of all ages, whether organized or not, should wear a CSA-certified helmet and visor to protect the head and eyes.

Head and Face Protection For Hockey

  • Replace your hockey helmet every seven years, and never buy a used one. In older helmets the plastic may weaken and lose its ability to absorb impact, or the lining may deteriorate.
  • Look for the CSA mark. That assures the helmet and face protector meet or exceed existing CSA safety standards.
  • Make sure the equipment fits properly. The helmet should fit snugly; secure it to the head by a taut chin cup. The face protector can be fastened to the helmet.
  • Practise wearing your new face protector with the helmet before using it in a game. For instance, watch television with it on, to get used to seeing through the mask.
  • Never tamper with your equipment. Cutting the wire of a face mask dangerously weakens the whole structure - CSA certification assures protection with good peripheral vision. Loose chin straps or a thin liner reduces a helmet's ability to prevent a concussion.
  • Make sure the wire structure on your face protector is solid and there are no broken wires.
  • Inspect plastic visors or protectors for scratches (which may limit vision) or cracks (which weaken the structural strength).

If your helmet is cracked, discard it. CSA-certified hockey helmets can sustain more than one impact, but a crack signals very serious damage.