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Effect of protective helmets on vision and sensory performance
  1. Michelle R Kramer1,2,
  2. Erin B Wasserman1,
  3. Elizabeth F Teel1,2,3,
  4. Jason P Mihalik1,2,3,4
  1. 1Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
  2. 2Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
  3. 3Interdisciplinary Curriculum in Human Movement Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
  4. 4Injury Prevention Research Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA

Abstract

Objective The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of protective helmets (i.e., football, lacrosse, and ice hockey helmets) on vision and sensory performance.

Design Experimental cross-over study.

Setting Clinical research centre.

Subjects A convenience sample of 24 healthy college-aged males who played American football (n=14), lacrosse (n=5), or ice hockey (n=5) at a minimum of a high school level.

Intervention Participants completed vision and sensory performance assessments under two counterbalanced conditions: helmeted and unhelmeted.

Outcome measures The Senaptec Sensory Station assesses visual clarity (LogMAR), contrast sensitivity (logarithm of contrast sensitivity), depth perception (arcsec), near-far quickness (# cycles complete), target capture (threshold response time), perception span (# correct responses), multiple object tracking (tracking capacity), eye-hand coordination (average response time), go/no go (correct minus incorrect hits), and hand reaction time (average reaction time). The overall helmet effect and helmet-by-sport interactions were assessed.

Results Participants performed 40.7ms slower on eye-hand coordination (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: −66.64, −14.83; p<0.01) and 3.4 points lower on go/no go (95% CI: 1.56, 5.32; p<0.01) when wearing a helmet. Hockey helmets significantly affected visual clarity (95% CI: −0.3701, −0.0883; p=0.01) and hand reaction time (95% CI: −38.67, −9.73; p<0.01), but football and lacrosse helmets did not.

Conclusions Vision and sensory performance was negatively impacted by wearing a helmet. This inability to see and respond to visual stimuli could have implications for athlete safety and performance, and should be explored further in other at-risk populations such as youth and female athletes.

Competing interests Kramer: None.

Wasserman: None.

Teel: None.

Mihalik: Dr. Mihalik has an equity interest in Senaptec LLC

Keywords: Concussion, Injury prevention, Vision, Helmet, Facemask

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