issues and experts

Researchers find shoulder pad foam layer plays role in fewer concussions

March 30, 2017

Simon Fraser University researchers have found that a simple modification to hockey players’ shoulder pads could have an impact on shoulder-to-head contact, the most common cause of concussions in ice hockey.

While shoulder pads are designed to protect players, most are designed with rigid plastic caps that may cause players to deliver checks that are more likely to cause concussions. Researchers, led by SFU professor Steve Robinovitch, tested the addition of an outer layer of soft foam over the shoulder cap to see if it would reduce the severity of shoulder-to-head impacts.

Researchers tested their hypothesis by having collegiate-level hockey players deliver “comfortably hard” checks to the head of an instrumented body-checking dummy, while wearing baseline and modified shoulder pads.

They found that a 2 cm-thick layer of foam over the shoulder cap resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in the peak linear acceleration of the head, and a12 per cent reduction in peak rotational velocity.

Their findings, published this month in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, lend support for modifications to shoulder pads to protect the brain health of hockey players.

Why it matters

• Shoulder-to-head contact, the most common cause of ice hockey concussions in ice hockey, accounts for 42 per cent of cases in the National Hockey League. 

• In the SFU study, the integration of foam padding on top of the plastic caps of shoulder pads reduced impact severity to the head and warrants further examination as a method for contributing to the prevention of brain injuries in ice hockey.

Learn more:

Paper abstract (also available in full from Prof. Robinovitch):


Steve Robinovitch, Faculty of Applied Sciences/Science (note he is on sabbatical but reachable at

Marianne Meadahl, University Communications, 778.782.9017;