The perception of comfort and fit of personal protective equipment in sport
2010-05-20T11:04:26Z (GMT) by
During the design of sports equipment, the main focus is usually on physical performance attributes, neglecting key subjective factors such as feel and comfort. The personal protective equipment worn in sport is a typical example, where injury prevention has taken precedence over user comfort, but it is anticipated that with a new approach to the design process, comfort can be improved without sacrificing protection. Using cricket leg guards and taekwondo chest guards as an example, this study aimed to develop a systematic method for assessing user perceptions and incorporating them into the design process. Players perceptions of the factors that influence the comfort of cricket leg guards and taekwondo chest guards were elicited through the use of co-discovery sessions, focus groups and individual interviews, and analysed through an inductive process to produce a comfort model. The relative importance of each different comfort dimension was identified through the use of an online questionnaire utilising the analytical hierarchy process method. Through the combination of these methods, six general dimensions were identified with a weighting regarding the amount to which each one determines a user's perceived comfort. For both cricket and taekwondo, the majority of players ranked Fit as the most important factor affecting comfort. Experimental procedures were developed to objectively test the Fit of cricket leg guards, with regards to batting kinematics, running performance and contact pressure. These methods were combined with subjective assessments of leg guard performance, to determine if there was a relationship between users perceived comfort and objective test results. It was found that shot ROM and performance were not significantly affected by cricket leg guards, despite perceptions of increased restriction whilst wearing certain pads. Wearing cricket leg guards was found to significantly decrease running performance when compared to running without pads (p<0.05). In addition, it was found that the degree of impedance depended on pad design and could not solely be attributed to additional mass. These results correlated with the subjective assessment of three different leg guards, with respondents identifying the pad which had the largest influence on their running biomechanics and impeded their performance the most, as the most restrictive pad. Contact pressure under the pad and straps was also measured for four different leg guards whilst running. The results found that the top strap applied the greatest amount of pressure to the leg, especially at the point of maximum knee flexion. The peak pressure under the top strap was found to reach up to three times that of any other area of the pad. These results were reflected in the subjective assessment of the leg guards, with all nine subjects identifying the top strap as an area of discomfort for certain pads. The results also suggested there was a preference for pads with a larger more consistent contact area, as pad movement was perceived to increase when contact area variation was greater. Finally the results from this research were used to develop a product design specification (PDS) for a cricket leg guard, specifying size, mass, contact pressure and shape. The PDS was used to develop a concept design which would maximise comfort, whilst maintaining protection.