In many sports, fast-paced action and aggressive competition lead to career-ending injuries. To avoid this, many players wear protective equipment over vulnerable areas. To protect their shins, many athletes wear shin guards, protective shells that absorb shock and prevent serious damage to the lower leg.
The use of shin guards dates to the late 19th century, according to the German Patent and Trademark Office. Over time, improved technology led to the use of new materials and designs that provide greater protection while decreasing the discomfort and weight of the guards. Instead of the single, hard shells of the past, shin guards today often have multiple layers of special shock-absorbing materials that stiffen upon encountering shock or shear.
Martial arts, American football, cricket, hockey, soccer and baseball are just a few of the sports in which shin guards are used. Each sport has a different type of shin guard to protect players from the specific dangers of that sport. Many sports organisations mandate that players wear shin guards because they may prevent career-threatening injuries.
Depending on the sport and model, shin guards can be attached with belts, laces, straps or Velcro, or by placing the shin guards into long socks. Today the most popular method involves straps that go around the calf. Some models also have gaiters (loops of fabric that go around the bottom of the foot) that stabilise the guard. And some guards have pockets where new protective shields can be inserted.
The effectiveness of shin guards depends on materials and design. A 2000 study that appeared in the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that "the average guard reduced force by 11 per cent to 17 per cent and strain by 45 per cent to 51 per cent compared with the unguarded leg." The researchers studied four types of shin guard materials, including plastic, Kevlar, compressed air and fibreglass. To determine which material and shin guard works best for a particular sport, ask the staff at a sports-supply store or a coach. Alternatively, research which type of shin guard is used by professional players in a given sport.