November 10, 2005

Schools could push protective sports gear more

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A three-year study of 100 high
schools has found that baseball and softball players were often
far more likely than other athletes to pad up with
non-mandatory protective equipment.

Similarly, the researchers found, athletes at smaller
schools were more likely than those at large high schools to
strap on guards for their knees, shins and ankles.

The findings suggest that some schools, including larger
ones with bigger sports teams, could do more to encourage kids
to wear extra protective gear, according to lead study author
Dr. Jingzhen Yang of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

She and her colleagues looked specifically at high school
athletes' use of non-mandatory gear for the lower extremities:
shin guards, kneepads and braces for the ankles and knees.

They found that among more than 13,500 athletes at 100
North Carolina schools, about one-third chose to use such
equipment. Baseball and softball players were most likely to do
so, with more than 80 percent saying they strapped on extra
padding or a brace before hitting the field.

They most often wore kneepads, Yang told Reuters Health,
and in a previous study, she and her colleagues found that
kneepads seemed to cut high school athletes' risk of injury.

The fact that so many baseball and softball players wore
extra protective gear suggests that there is a "strong
perceived need" for it, Yang and her colleagues note in their
report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Mandatory equipment rules for those sports, they add, may
need to be re-evaluated.

In other findings, athletes at smaller schools and on teams
with a lower player-to-coach ratio were more likely to wear
voluntary protective gear - as were players whose teammates
commonly wore pads, guards and braces.

These results, the researchers say, point to the influence
of coaches and teammates over athletes' decisions to strap on
extra protective equipment.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, November 2005.