Protective Equipment

Protective gear is a key element of injury prevention in sport. However, even the best gear is ineffective when the fit is improper. It is essential to understand and follow proper fit guidelines for all styles of equipment. Equipment should be utilized in the way that it was designed, with no modifications, to gain the full protective effects.

Shoulder and Chest Pads

  • Many sports require the use of some type of shoulder padding. Pads typically consist of a foam inner layer fastened to a hard plastic outer shell. This is then secured to the body by a system of straps and clips. In sports such as rugby, shoulder and chest protection can be provided by high density foam padding without outer hard shells.
  • Fitting a football shoulder girdle should include the following elements:
    • Must be size and position specific (taking measurements of the chest/upper torso and shoulder contour to select proper pad sizing is ideal)
    • Both scapulae are covered
    • Deltoids are covered
    • Top flap coverlet covers the AC joint
    • Entire sternum is covered
    • No pinching in the collar area
  • Sports that involve high velocity impacts with players, balls, or other equipment need to wear protective chest and shoulder equipment.


  • The use of helmets can help lower the risk of experiencing traumatic injuries such as skull and facial fractures. However, the ability to reduce the risk of concussion is not as well understood, as no amount of coverage can stop the brain from moving within the skull.
  • To gain the full protective benefits of a helmet, the equipment must be fitted properly and securely.
  • Fitting of football helmet should include the following elements:
    1. Measure head size (take measurement ~1″ above the eyebrows)
    2. Select helmet based on this measurement (if measurement falls between helmet sizes, choose the smaller size)
    3. Place the helmet on the head
      • The front of the helmet should sit ~1″ (~2 finger widths) above eyebrow
      • To adjust the helmet comfort and fit, air can be added to the inflation bladders. Adding air to a helmet that is too small, or much too big, will not correct a poor fit.
      • Back of the helmet should cover the back of the skull
      • Cheek pads should fit snugly on the cheek but not too tight
      • Ear holes on the helmet should line up with the player’s ears
    4. To test that the helmet is correctly fitted, move the helmet by the face-mask up, down, and side to side. The head should turn with the helmet without slipping. If the helmet slips, the fit is improper. Additionally, you can interlock hands at the top of the helmet and press down. The player should feel pressure on the crown of the head, and not the brow. Pressure on the brow also indicates an improper fit.
    5. For the chin strap, buckle the top and bottom of the chin strap in to the snaps. The cup should be centered and snug over the chin. Adjust the strap until the chin is firmly pressed into the cup.
    6. Air bladders should be checked routinely to ensure the helmet still fits properly after use
  • The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) is considered to be a main governing body on athletic equipment. The committee is comprised of members from various medical groups, including the American College Health Association, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, Athletic Equipment Managers Association, American Football Coaches Association, National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association, National Athletic Trainers Association, Sports & Fitness Industry Association, NCAA, and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
  • NOCSAE was created in 1970 to help reduce the rate of serious injuries and fatalities in football by introducing helmet standards. Their current mission is to enhance athletic safety through scientific research and the creation of performance standards for athletic equipment. NOCSAE standards are constantly being updated to reflect the latest science, technology, and medicine. Currently, they have 49 performance and test standards for various athletic equipment, including: football, baseball/softball, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, polo, and ice hockey.
  • Although NOCSAE recertification is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. Recertified helmets must have a recertification label that includes the name of the recertifying firm and the year of recertification placed in an area in which it can be easily read without the removal of permanent components. NOCSAE also recommends that organizations adopt and follow a program of helmet inspection and reconditioning that meets their particular needs, based on age and size of players, severity of helmet usage, ages of helmets, among other factors.

Eye Protection

  • In some sports that do not require helmets, eye protection is recommended to prevent eye injury. Up to 90% of eye injuries are preventable with proper equipment.
  • Eye protection should be considered in the following sports that have moderate-high risk for eye injury: badminton, basketball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, hockey, tennis, soccer, volleyball, water polo, football, paintball, cricket, squash, racquetball, fencing, fishing, and golf. This is not an all-inclusive list, and eye protection can be worn at the discretion of the player in any sport, regardless of risk.

Mouth guards

  • To protect from dental injuries, athletes can wear mouth guards. Dental procedures can become costly over a lifetime, and prevention of these injuries is a simple task. When mouth guards are worn and fitted properly, they have been shown to reduce the rate of dental and facial injuries, such as lacerations, tooth dislocations or fractures, or facial fractures.
  • Mouth guards range from 1$-$50 and can be bought in bulk, making them an easy item to resupply annually. Custom fit mouth guards using molds of the teeth also are ideal to provide the best fit, but can be more expensive than the boil and bite mouth guards.

Shin Guards

  • NOCSAE certifies shin guards for soccer players. They are designed to protect the lower leg against many injuries, including, but not limited to, contusion, fractures, and lacerations.