Safety Tips: Lacrosse

There’s a reason lacrosse has been called the fastest-growing sport in America. It’s fast-moving and fun to play and watch. But when everyone’s moving so fast and using sticks to sling a solid rubber ball around, injuries are bound to happen occasionally.

To keep things as safe as possible while playing lacrosse, follow these tips.

Why Is Lacrosse Safety Important?

The rules of boys’ lacrosse allow for a lot more contact than in girls’ lacrosse. But even in girls’ lacrosse, players collide, and people accidentally get hit with sticks and balls. Strains and sprains are the most common injuries. Concussions are also common. Other injuries include bruises, ligament tears, and overuse injuries (RSIs) like tendonitis and stress fractures.

Getting hit with a stick or a ball can break or sprain fingers, hands, or wrists. And if a stick or the ball hits someone in the face, it can break teeth or injure the eyes.

Gearing Up

The right protective gear is important for any sport, especially a contact sport like boys’ lacrosse. All gear should be approved for lacrosse and fit correctly.

Here are some other things to think about when it comes to safety gear:

  • Helmets. Boys’ lacrosse players are required to wear helmets with facemasks, but girls’ lacrosse players are not. Always choose a helmet that is approved specifically for lacrosse by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). This means that it has been tested and passed safety regulations. Girls’ lacrosse players may wear a soft helmet when they play.
  • Goggles. Girls’ lacrosse players are required to wear eye protection. Most goggles are made of steel cages that protect the eyes, but some players choose plastic goggles that allow for better peripheral vision.
  • Cleats. Choose shoes with molded cleats or ribbed soles. Shoes with screw-in cleats may make an injury more likely, so only use them when you need extra traction, like on a wet or muddy field.
  • Mouthguards. Mouthguards are a good way to protect the teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue. Mouthguards are required for all lacrosse players.
  • Gloves. Lacrosse gloves are required in boys’ lacrosse. Gloves should protect the fingers, hands, and wrists, while allowing the hands to move freely and grip the stick. Make sure there are hard plastic inserts to protect the thumbs. Girls sometimes wear lightweight field gloves, especially in cold weather.
  • Elbow and shoulder pads. These are almost always required in boys’ lacrosse. They help protect the arms and upper body. For added protection, some players wear full arm guards or rib pads.
  • Cup. Boys usually are required to wear protective cups (and even when cups are optional, boys should wear them).
  • Stick. Lacrosse sticks are different for boys and girls. In boys’ lacrosse, the pocket of the stick is deeper, which helps a player to throw the ball faster.

Goalie Gear

Some players can shoot a 5-ounce lacrosse ball over 100 mph. Goalies need courage and the following special gear:

  • Head and neck protection. Helmets with throat protectors attached to them are required for all goalies in both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse.
  • Gloves. Goalies can wear regular lacrosse gloves, but some prefer gloves that are longer or have extra padding. Girls’ lacrosse goalies are required to wear padded gloves.
  • Chest protector. All lacrosse goalies are required to wear chest protection. The chest protector goes under the jersey.
  • Arm and leg protection. Lacrosse goalies usually wear arm pads and have padded lacrosse pants under their shorts. Girls also must wear protective shin guards at the youth and high school levels.
  • Stick. Lacrosse goalies use sticks that have bigger, wider heads to help them block shots.

Before You Play

Getting yourself in good shape before lacrosse season starts will help make you a better player and go a long way toward preventing injuries. Start working out and eating right a few months before the season begins. Better yet, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet year-round, and then you won’t need to worry about getting in shape for the season.

Here are some other things to keep in mind before you start practicing or playing:

  • Inspect the field to make sure there are no holes or other obstacles, including debris and broken glass. Store extra sticks, balls, and other equipment well off to the sides of the field.
  • Always warm up and stretch. Do jumping jacks or run in place for a few minutes to get the blood flowing, and then slowly and gently stretch, paying particular attention to your ankles, calves, knees, and hamstrings. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next one.
  • Get a sports physical. Many schools won’t let athletes play unless they’ve had a pre-season physical exam. If your school doesn’t require or schedule an exam for you, have your parents take you to your own doctor. He or she will make sure you’re physically able to play and can review sports safety with you.

While You Play

Obey the rules. Unsafe play, especially related to stick use, is a major cause of injuries. In addition, violating rules could mean you can’t play. For example, in boys’ lacrosse, a personal foul sends you off the field for 1 to 3 minutes, and five fouls gets you ejected from the game

Keep your head up and be aware of your teammates and opposing players at all times. Collisions are more likely if you charge blindly down the field without paying attention to other players.

Use proper techniques, particularly when it comes to stick-handling, shooting, and — in boys’ lacrosse — body and stick checking. Illegal use of the stick and illegal body checks are common causes of injuries.

If you get a cramp or feel pain while playing, ask to come off the field and don’t start playing again until the pain goes away. Playing through pain might seem brave, but it can make an injury worse and possibly keep you on the sidelines for longer stretches of time.

A Few Other Reminders

  • Make sure first aid is available at the fields where you practice and play, as well as someone who knows how to provide it.
  • Be prepared for emergencies. Have a responsible adult on hand when you play, or have a plan to contact medical personnel so concussions, fractures, or dislocations can be treated quickly.
  • Stay hydrated (particularly on hot, sunny days) by drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after practices and games.
  • If you have any piercings or jewelry, remove them before playing.
  • If an opposing player collides with you or does something you disagree with, don’t take it personally. Let the referees handle the situation, and never start a fight with another player.

Native Americans have been enjoying lacrosse since before Columbus landed in the New World. But injuries can happen if people don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them or don’t play safely. Following the rules, taking basic precautions, and being aware of other players will help you to avoid most injuries.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014