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Are Pole Vault Helmets Really Safer?

Updated on April 4, 2011

The question of wearing a pole vaulting helmet or not.

Is it really safer to wear a helmet when pole vaulting?  This is the question any concerned parent may ask when considering the equipment necessary for their high school pole vaulting student.  As with any sport, the risk of injury is present and so any preventative measure that can be taken against injury is something that should be considered.  But... is wearing a pole vaulting helmet really the answer?

Mandatory use of pole vaulting helmets has been the project of Edward Dare and Penn State.

In 2002 there were three fatalities that occurred during the process of executing a pole vaulting jump. The most publicized of the three was that of Kevin Dare, a sophomore from PennState. While participating in a Big Ten men’s indoor competition Kevin hit his head on the box where the pole itself is planted, which resulted in a fatal head injury.  Kevin’s father Edward Dare, along with a product engineering firm called Enventys, in conjunction with Penn State themselves, have since made it their goal to decrease the risk of head injuries while participating in pole vaulting.  They have worked to develop and lobby for the mandatory use of a pole vaulting helmet to be worn while pole vaulting.

Should you wear a Pole Vaulting helmet?

Helmets may be worn for added safety measure but should never be a substitute for proper equipment or technique.
Helmets may be worn for added safety measure but should never be a substitute for proper equipment or technique.

Pole vaulting helmets, an ongoing controversy.

This action on their part has sparked an on going controversy regarding the wearing of pole vaulting helmets for safety during a pole vault, which has found experts in the field of pole vaulting divided. Even as recent as June of 2008, with the publication of the article, Pole Vault Safety from a site known as American Track and Field, the consensus on the issue is still unresolved.

Some show concerns about the safety of pole vaulting helmets.

So, exactly what are the problems associated with the pole vaulting helmet, and the concerns the experts have regarding the wearing of it during a pole vault?

Could the pole vaulting helmet cause greater injury?

One concern experts have is the possibility that wearing the pole vaulting helmet may cause greater injury to the pole vaulter than if it was not worn at all. First of all when a pole vaulter makes a vault and falls into the pit for their landing a helmet can actually magnify the force of the landing and jar their head. This would happen every time a land was made, even when it is a perfect vault. The concern is that the effects of this constant jarring over time would be more detrimental than if the helmet was not worn at all. Consequently many feel the helmet does more harm than it does good.

Another concern is the possibility of cervical hyperflexion injuries. This is a valid concern as the greatest possibility of injury in pole vaulting involves injuries of the neck. Landing wrong on the neck, which is a more common problem then landing on the head, could result in paralysis or even death as well. The added weight of the helmet could actually increase the risk of a neck injury instead of offering protection to the vaulter.

One additional concern is that the helmet itself can get caught on the bar, pole, or other equipment in the process of the vault. This added piece of equipment may even increase this type of injury risk.

Some pros for wearing a pole vaulting helmet.

On the flip side of the argument, a pole vaulter who wears a helmet may feel safer and more secure in their jumps.  Anxiety is a serious detriment in vaulting, so the more secure the pole vaulter is, the more likely they are to be more aggressive in their vaulting.  This aggressive approach is needed to affect a successful vault, and should result in fewer injuries.

Although the argument has been made that neck injuries could result from the use of the pole vaulting helmet, head injuries would decrease considerably. There is really no conclusive evidence that a helmet could cause worse neck damage in a fall, but the chance of brain damage is greatly diminished by using a pole vaulting helmet.

ASTM Certified Pole Vaulting Helmet

"This helmet takes the guesswork out of what to have your vaulters wear. All other choices have now become obsolete. You can rest assured that you have made the correct choice when you recommend or your state requires the use of a Pole Vault Helmet.
"This helmet takes the guesswork out of what to have your vaulters wear. All other choices have now become obsolete. You can rest assured that you have made the correct choice when you recommend or your state requires the use of a Pole Vault Helmet.

Finally a pole vaulting helmet to meet ASTM standards.

Finding a helmet that meets the state standards required has been a challenging task until just recently.  The USA Gill Athletics, partnering with Pro-Tec, the #1 manufacturer of extreme sports helmets, has just announced the market’s only ASTM Certified Pole Vault Helmet. 

“Four states require the use of a pole vault helmet and many more recommend it,” said vice president of sales and marketing Steve Vogelsang. “Gill Athletics is committed to the safety of the pole vault event and believe everyone has the opportunity to vault safer now there is an ASTM certified pole vault helmet.”

The choice to wear a pole vaulting helmet is ultimately yours.

If your student’s school does not require your child to wear a helmet they may require you to sign a helmet waiver if you wish to have your child participate in pole vaulting without a helmet. A typical one might look like this wavier from the Skyjumpers website.

Ultimately if your high school does not require the high school pole vaulter to wear a helmet, the choice is yours as a parent. I hope that these links have been helpful to you so that you can make a more educated decision on the matter.


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    • Coolpapa profile image

      Coolpapa 3 years ago from Florida

      As a former pole vaulter, I can appreciate the concern but there are many ways to make the landing pit safer without interfering with the vaulter. I am not sure that vaulters would elect to wear a helmet nor am I convinced of its value. Having said that, you Hub serves to shed more light on the subject and that alone makes it more valuable. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Joshua 7 years ago

      hey im actually doing an engineerinf project to recreate the pole vault helmet because of the disadvantages........ if you have any ideas please let me know

    • Philipo profile image

      Philipo 8 years ago from Nigeria

      Ups and downs. It has it advantages and disadvantages. Can't really decide now. Nice controversial hub.

    • MikeJ profile image

      Mike Jones 8 years ago from Utah

      Been a sports participate and fan all my life. Good controversy, well researched (as always), and, as you said, injuries occur in any sport. I don't know if helmets make the sport any safer and I'm not sure if mandates is the answer. Perhaps making helmets available and let there be a choice. Enjoyed your work as always.