With football season here and hockey season approaching, it's time for parents, children and coaches to review the information currently available about concussions in contact sports. No one is immune, but youth are particularly vulnerable.
A concussion is a brain injury. In the past, the less-threatening term, "minor head injury", encouraged a dangerous unconcern about headaches, dizziness, depression, personality and/or behaviour changes, or the inability to think clearly or concentrate following a skirmish on the ice or in the field. It was assumed these difficulties would just disappear eventually. We now have considerable medical evidence of the seriousness of concussions, especially multiple concussions because the effects are cumulative. In very severe cases, former team athletes have acquired permanent degenerative brain disease, no different from brain trauma suffered by some boxers.
Sidney Crosby and Max Pacioretty were recently sidelined by concussions, but we need also remember that concussions ended the NHL careers of Eric and Brent Lindross, Scott Steven Mike Richter, Petr Svoboda, Adam Deadmarsh, Keith Primeau and many others who were forced into retirement by the severity of repeated injuries to their brains in a game they loved.
Both fighting and bodychecking in hockey are responsible for life-changing disabilities, and putting faith in the protective quality of a helmet is mistaken optimism. Helmets help prevent skull fractures, but cannot prevent impact damage to the brain inside the intact skull.
In 2011, concerned about the injuries to Ontario hockey players aged 6-17, a research team at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto confirmed that bodychecking was the most frequent cause of hockey injury, and that the risk of head or neck injury had increased significantly when the rules were changed to allow body contact in the Atom Division.
The Canadian Sports Concussion Project is currently working with the Canadian Football League Alumni Association and the Professional Hockey Players Association to compile research that will facilitate informed decisions about the rules for contact sports.
While young athletes are honing their winning skills, their mentors need to keep them safe, ensuring that our children will be able to play again another day.
Questions and comments welcome at email@example.com