Photo credit Jeffrey F Lin
Swimming caps are becoming the preferred method in football for protecting head wounds
The whole idea of using a swimming cap for protection of head wounds in football has become so commonplace that everyone’s doing it...
Real Valladolid’s Ibán Salvador stood out when he did this after sustaining a scalp wound against Cádiz at the Ramón Carranza a couple of seasons ago.
Despite all the efforts of the Valladolid medical team the blood just wouldn’t stop.
In another game against Real Betis earlier that season, Eibar’s medics used the same technique when treating striker Kike García; who sustained a head wound in a collision with a Betis player and had to leave the field for treatment.
Kike returned to the game a few minutes later wearing a swimming cap; as did Ibán of Valladolid. There will have been numerous other unreported examples of this over the past eighteen months since then.
Going back even further in time, anyone watching the Euro 16 football competition in France will have noticed at that time the swimming cap worn by Croatian defender Vedran Ćorluka.
As a result of clashing heads with another player Vedran sustained a bad head wound in his country’s opening game against Turkey which required stitches.
As a result, he played the next two successive games wearing a swimming cap to protect the wound. The big Croat wore the cap against Spain and the Czech Republic; and that seemed to start the current trend.
On the night of the original injury I’m sure I wasn’t the only medical anorak watching to see if the Croatians could stop the bleeding for long enough to let him continue!
Cuts and lacerations of the scalp can be extremely difficult to deal with; and as any footballer or team physiotherapist will tell you, head wounds bleed profusely.
Once the concussive element of the head injury had been excluded, attempts by the Croatian medical team to stem the flow of blood failed time and time again; with repeated bandage changes becoming the order of the day.
Despite concerted efforts by the doctors and medics, Vedran, who still plays in Russia with Locomotiv Moscow, had come to the side of the pitch on more than one occasion as the wound continued to bleed.
I know from personal experience that stopping the bleeding even after stitches have been inserted can be a job and a half.
Situations like this have always been an issue for team physiotherapists and doctors because often there’s nothing worse than having to continually reapply a bandage over and over and again.
It can actually look as though you’re not capable of doing your job if the dressings won’t hold, and of course if the game keeps getting stopped to allow the player to have a fresh bandage applied then it looks even worse.
And if it’s raining, it becomes even harder to make the bandages stay in place. In these circumstances the best thing to do is to use some electrical tape over the finished article to hold everything in place.
That's the technique used in rugby league football; and the physios there probably see more head injuries of this nature than they do in other sports.
By securing the dressing and bandages using electrical tape the application becomes a lot stronger and is assisted by using the natural contours of the skull.
Once the dressing is in place, the holding bandage needs to pass around the head and underneath the base of the skull before being secured in place by layers of electrical tape; finishing at the side of the head; well away from the eyes.
This helps to prevent the whole application slipping up and off; particularly if it’s raining since electrical tape is waterproof.
Wearing a headband often helps if the wound is above the eyes and I always used to keep one in my own pitch-side bag for that reason; but of course it’s a different story if the wound is on the scalp itself or on the crown of the head.
In these cases it becomes really difficult to secure a dressing without making it look over-dramatic, but sometimes your options are limited.
The swimming cap was an interesting choice of protection; and I would imagine that the thinking behind this is that it’s light and pliable, without being too cumbersome.
Players can be notoriously difficult to please when it comes to wearing padding of any kind, particularly for head and facial wounds. If it feels too heavy or if they simply decide that they don’t like it, then they’ll just throw it away.
The trend in recent years has been for goalkeepers to wear rugby-style scrum caps; but that hasn’t as yet spread fully to the outfield players.
The evidence, however, doesn’t support the practice of wearing these for anything other than the protection of surface wounds and / or cuts.
In fact, rugby-style scrum-caps have been shown NOT to provide protection against concussive head injuries and in fact wearing these scrumcaps can actually increase the injury risk by lulling players into a false sense of security.
The main reason for a player to wear one of these is to protect surface wounds as opposed to being a barrier to concussive head injury.
Peter Cech always wore one; but since he retired we don't see this too often now. It's not illegal either and the referees are only going to be worried if they think the headgear is a danger to another player.
But as these things are relatively soft anyway, I don’t think there’s much of a risk.
As we said, though, the biggest danger is if players think that just because they’re wearing scrumcaps they believe they are more protected than they actually are.
In Euro 16 the Croatian medics must have used at least half a dozen fresh bandages on Vedran Ćorluka on the night he sustained the original injury.
On more than on occasion throughout the match the blood from the wound quickly began to soak through the dressings and bandages again a few minutes later.
Finally, the idea of using the swimming cap was tried and it seemed to work a treat!
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