The most common cause of concussions in hockey isn't the hitting of heads on ice … it's shoulder-to-head impacts, as in one player's shoulder impacting another one's head. According to research being conducted at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University (SFU), however, the severity of those impacts could be greatly reduced with the simple addition of a layer of foam.

While shoulder pads are already a key piece of hockey equipment, they're designed to protect the person wearing them – not the person being hit by them. Although they may have foam underneath, they're topped with a hard plastic cap.

With that in mind, SFU researchers had 15 collegiate-level hockey players deliver "comfortably hard" shoulder checks to the head of a mannequin equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes – they did so using regular shoulder pads, and also using pads with a 2-cm (0.8-inch) layer of polyurethane foam attached over the cap.

It was found that use of the foam "resulted in a 25 percent reduction in the peak linear acceleration of the head, and a 12 percent reduction in peak rotational velocity."

The research was led by Prof. Steve Robinovitch, and is described in a paper recently published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise.