The number of hurling and camogie players suffering head and facial injuries has fallen significantly since the mandatory use of helmets was introduced, a new Irish study has found.
However, some players still avoid wearing helmets while training, increasing their risk of an injury.
According to the researchers, an estimated 350,000 people in Ireland play hurling and camogie.
"Due to the physical and highly dynamic nature of the game, injuries are inevitable and are commonly seen in primary care and in the emergency department (ED)," they explained.
In 2005, it became compulsory for all players under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while playing in a match. In 2010, it became compulsory for all players to wear a helmet with a faceguard in matches and training. This rule came into effect for camogie in 2011.
Meanwhile, hand protection, which has been available for a number of years, is currently not mandatory.
The researchers looked at all patients presenting with a hurling or camogie injury to the ED of Cork University Hospital (CUH) between May 1 and August 31 of 2010.
During this period, there were 114 injured players - 90 males and 24 females. They were aged between eight and 38.
Of the injuries recorded, two in three were to the upper limbs, with injuries to the hand being the most common. Almost one in five injuries were to the lower limbs. Just 12 head injuries were recorded.
The researchers found that almost all of the players were wearing helmets at the time of their injury. Of the 12 people with head injuries, eight had been wearing a helmet. However, the study found that two of these helmets had been altered in some way by the player or did not meet safety standards.
"Players should be educated and advised not to alter their faceguards," the researchers said.
Meanwhile, the four players with head injuries who had not been wearing helmets were all injured in training.
"This leads us to believe that the helmet rule is not being fully adhered to at training. Teams should enforce this rule," they insisted.
However, the researchers pointed out that the number of people who sustained head injuries had fallen dramatically compared to previous studies.
"Only 7% of all injuries recorded were to the head. This is in stark contrast to previous studies conducted on this topic. Previous studies in CUH in 1984 and 1993 found that head and face injuries accounted for 28% and 20% of total injuries respectively," they noted.
While welcoming the finding on head injuries, the researchers emphasised that there are still major issues in relation to hand injuries. In this study, nine in 10 players were not wearing any hand protection and one in five of the hand injuries were fractures.
Just two people with hand injuries were found to be wearing hand protection on both hands. In these cases, the injuries were to fingernails. One person with a hand injury ‘was wearing protection on the opposite hand to the injury'.
The researchers called for the introduction of the mandatory use of bilateral hand protection.
"This would result in reduced injury rates together with reduced costs for the players and the health service, without diluting any of the sports' enjoyment."
Details of this study are published in Forum, the Journal of the Irish College of General Practitioners.
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