Full Masks Used in Ice Hockey Cleared

Ice hockey players who wear full-face masks run no higher risk of neck and other injuries than those wearing half masks, according to a study that could ease fears that the greater protection only encourages more dangerous play.

The Canadian study, reported in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, also confirmed that full masks are significantly better at protecting players from facial injuries.

U.S. college hockey players have been required to wear full-face masks since 1980, and high school players since 1983, but controversy over the decision persists. In April, coaches asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association to go back to half masks.

A half mask extends from the front rim of the helmet down to the tip of the nose. A full mask goes all the way down and cups around the chin.

Some believe an increase in head and neck injuries in recent years has occurred because full-face masks promote aggressive play or change the mechanics of the head and neck so that the spine is more easily hurt.

But that was not borne out among 642 college players studied during the 1997-98 season in Canada, where face mask rules are inconsistent. About half the players wore full-face masks and half wore half masks. Half-mask wearers were found to be 2.3 times more likely to suffer facial injuries and 9.9 times more likely to suffer dental injuries than full-mask wearers. But they had virtually equal likelihoods of suffering neck injuries, concussions and other injuries.

Among half-mask wearers, there were 95 face and head injuries, 41 concussions, nine neck injuries and 202 other injuries. Among full-mask wearers, there were 34 face and head injuries, 38 concussions, seven neck injuries and 150 other injuries.

Spokesmen for the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations said the findings support their current rules. The National Hockey League has no face mask rule.

Vitamin C May Help Hypertensive Patients

Heart patients with high blood pressure may receive substantial benefit from a daily dose of vitamin C--something researchers said could be an inexpensive alternative to prescription drugs.

A dose of 500 milligrams each day lowers blood pressure by up to 9 percent, a reduction comparable to that produced by expensive prescription drugs, according to researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

The researchers who conducted the study cautioned, however, that more study is needed and that vitamin C is not a substitute for medication.

The study divided a group of 39 patients with mild to moderate hypertension into two groups. About half took daily doses of 500 milligrams of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, while the others took a placebo. After one month, the average blood pressure of patients who took vitamin C dropped 9.1 percent, significantly greater than the reduction experienced by patients in the placebo group, who averaged a 2.7 percent decline.

Both groups continued to take their regular medication for hypertension during the vitamin C study.

Vitamin C may improve the way the body synthesizes nitric oxide, a compound important for keeping blood vessels relaxed. The vitamin also may help boost the effectiveness of anti-hypertension medication.