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Every hockey helmet sold in Canada has an expiration date — you many have seen the sticker on the back, from the Hockey Equipment Certification Council. This expiry date typically lasts for six-and-a-half years after the helmet’s manufacturing date.

But, as everyone playing with an expired lid has wondered: does this date matter? And if so, how much? 

Alex Robertshaw, a University of Calgary mechanical engineering graduate student, is working on a study that focuses on how hockey helmets change with usage and age and he’s looking for your used helmets to do it. 

Robertshaw has received helmets so far from the Calgary Flames Sports Bank and from donation bins located at the Flames Community Arena, Cardel Rec South and the Olympic Oval. He’s looking for more in any age, size and condition.

The study will crash test those helmets to see how their protectiveness degrades over time.

“What we’re saying is that maybe these helmets will change with regular use,” says Robertshaw. “If you put it in your car it gets hot, it gets cold, you sweat in it and you take hits in it. So what we’re doing is collecting used helmets from the community by donation and then we are going to test them all and see if there is any change that comes from regular use.” 

Concussions have always been a problem for athletes. But before the creation of certain diagnostic equipment, concussions were shrouded in mystery, with athletes and doctors having lacked the knowledge to properly diagnose this injury. 

According to the CDC, concussion symptoms can include headache or “pressure” in the head, nausea or vomiting, bothered by light or noise, sluggishness, confusion or concentration/memory problems and just not “feeling right” or “feeling down.” 

Some of the signs and symptoms of a concussion as outlined by the CDC

Robertshaw’s project aims to make sure that used helmets are just as effective at preventing head injuries as new ones. The goal is to make sure hockey players aren’t more susceptible to concussions after each game they play with their helmet.  

“When a helmet is impacted what we are measuring is the peak acceleration that the head inside will feel. What we are hypothesizing is that the acceleration that the user feels will increase as the helmet is used,” says Robertshaw. “Whether that increase will put the helmet in the range where it can’t be used, we’re not sure yet.”

Robertshaw explains that during testing there is a certain threshold that the helmets have to pass in order to be safe for use.

“When helmets are tested there is a certain maximum acceleration that the user feels. If the helmet is hit and the user feels that acceleration at a certain speed then the helmet will fail the test,” says Robertshaw. “You raise the helmet up to a certain height and then drop it such that when it hits at the bottom its speed is 4.5 meters per second.” 

Ultimately, Robertshaw is hoping to discover something new about the safety of used helmets and provide informative knowledge to the general public about head safety in sports. 

“We are going to pass along our results to the HECC… if it’s some sort of groundbreaking result maybe the expiry dates will get looked at,” he says. 

Brain injuries still too common

One study states that 22 per cent of hockey players aged 10-25 have sustained at least one diagnosed concussion. This figure only accounts for the concussions that were properly diagnosed and it is not out of the ordinary for athletes to sustain this type of injury without knowing. Another study states that nearly one third of all athletes have received a blow to the head that resulted in symptoms of a concussion but were not diagnosed as one. 

Some concussions are easier to detect than others as the symptoms can vary from person-to-person. Olympic-level wrestler Danielle Lappage is an athlete who understands the severity of this injury after sustaining two concussions; one in 2013 and the other in 2018.

Lappage celebrating a hard fought victory on the mats  PHOTO: Noel West 

Apart from the already difficult symptoms that come with having a concussion, the mental aspects of recovery can be just as challenging. 

“I’m big into mental health and sports psychology and I think they are both very separate and different things,” says Lappage. “I think every time you sustain an injury there is this mental health piece where people ask ‘How are you doing?’ because you have been out of sport and you’re not doing what you love, which deals with the emotional side of an injury.”

Ultimately, Lappage believes that giving yourself the time to rest and recover are the most important things to consider after sustaining a concussion.

“The biggest thing is rest. Physical rest and mental rest… It’s a brain injury so you need to give it time, you can’t really rush it.” 

Anyone wishing to learn more about the study or donate a helmet can contact Alex Robertshaw at alexander.robertshaw@ucalgary.ca

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