Saturday, 23 October 2010

HNIC Talks Brains

There is no doubt that the frequency of diagnosed brain injuries, specifically concussions, has seen an infinite increase as more and more doctors learn about the injury. While there have been great advances in helmet padding and protection as well as campaigns to reduce checks to the head, concussions still happen at an alarming rate in hockey. Some leagues have banned and penalized all contact with the head, and this is something I endorse and applaud. Junior leagues and developmental leagues deserve to give all the players in those leagues a fair shot at advancing their careers, but a concussion can not only derail those plans, but end them completely. That being said, the piece done by CBC's Elliotte Friedman on the Inside Hockey segment was excellent.

Teddy Katz, a reporter for CBC, filed a report one day earlier from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota about concussions, and his report was excellent as well.

He writes, "The chief medical officer for Hockey Canada, Mark Aubry (who's also the team doctor for the Ottawa Senators) was at the microphone saying any time a player starts feeling that way - a trainer, coach, doctor should immediately remove that player from the ice. And rarely, if ever, allow them to return to play the same day."

This is the one thing that players always try to do: return from a big hit. Most times, the pros can be seen sitting on the bench with glassy eyes as the trainer or another player waves smelling salts under the concussed player's nose. There's an element of "toughness" that players have to exhibit, and "bouncing back" after a big hit is "part of the game".

Except it's not. And Dr. Aubry states that some players lie about their symptoms to remain in the game due to how competitive they are.

Here is what Mr. Katz found:

  • "There are consistently between 70 and 78 reported in a typical year". That number is fairly scary.
  • "Most of the concussions happen in youth hockey". That is downright frightening. Developing brains don't need to be slowed by the effects of a concussion, yet most of the reported concussions happen in youth hockey. Wow.
This article isn't meant to scare you, though. It's being written with young hockey players in mind. I want parents, coaches, referees, arena employees, timekeepers, and anyone else in the arena to be far more cognizant of players who may have take a rap on the noggin.

According to NCAA football rules, any player who is diagnosed with a concussion is not allowed to return to the game, and any loss of consciousness is automatically deemed a concussion for the player's protection. This is a very good rule considering the number of helmet-on-helmet hits that football players see, so there must be something that can be done in hockey as well.

As to what can be done, I'm not sure. I'm not a neurosurgeon nor am I any sort of doctor. What I do know is that players need to be honest with coaches and trainers, and trainers need to be far more protective of the players. I realize that not every single concussion can be prevented, but we can still make up a lot of ground in the treatment and prevention of additional concussions.

That's something we are all responsible for, and something we should be demanding all leagues, from the NHL down to your local beer league and kids' hockey leagues. If your favorite NHL star tells you and your kids to help prevent concussions, there's a very good chance that it will start to sink home.

And knowing is half the battle.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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