Anyone who has been involved in sports for any length of time — especially contact sports — knows that concussions are a risk.
And because such an injury is tough for the average parent, player or coach to detect, and because so many myths surround the injury, it’s something that can easily go undetected in any athlete — especially young hockey players.
Though the danger of concussions has been well documented in the media over the last few years, there remain some misconceptions surrounding the level of force it takes to cause the injury.
While the medical definition, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions,” such injuries don’t only come after a big, highlight-reel-worthy, open-ice hit. Caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or by a fall or hit to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth, concussions can occur through seemingly mundane events during the course of a regular hockey game — a jolt of a player’s body against the glass, a puck off the face mask of a goaltender or a bump a player takes on the back of the head after an innocuous fall.
While historically many people believed concussion injuries involved loss of consciousness, some experts today say only 10 per cent of sufferers actually “black out.” For a minor hockey coach or trainer, that can make determining if a player is injured an awfully tough job, especially because young players are not often keen to offer up more of a self-diagnosis than, “I’m okay, coach.”
For many — likely most — young players, a concussion won’t even mean a trip to the emergency room. And the under-reporting of such injuries has many doctors concerned.
Dr. Laura Purcell, who authored a position statement on evaluation and management of children and adolescents with sports-related concussion for the Canadian Paediatric Society, told The Vancouver Sun in a February 2012 interview that “Because their brains are still developing, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to head injury and take longer to recover from concussions than adults.”
Signs and symptoms of a concussion can appear immediately or take days or weeks to show up. Common signs of a concussion include headache, nausea or vomiting, balance problems, dizziness and sensitivity to light. Concussion sufferers may also notice disturbances in their vision, have trouble falling asleep or notice a change in mood.
In children and adolescents, the effects of a concussion last, on average, about three weeks, though it is different for each individual. Some sufferers also experience “post-concussion syndrome,” which is similar to the original concussion and may last for days, weeks or even months after the original injury.
In light of the recent facts, many minor hockey associations have taken steps to ensure concussed players are diagnosed quickly and correctly, and measures are taken to make sure the player is safe. Some provincial branches, such as British Columbia’s Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association (PCAHA) for example, have banned bodychecking at all recreational “house” levels, in all age divisions, in an effort to minimize body contact as much as possible.
However, according to the folks at stopconcussions.com, education is the key to the prevention, detection and management of concussions. The site’s founders — Keith Primeau, a former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Kerry Goulet, a former European hockey player — have also helped develop and promote a unique intervention program (playitcoolhockey.com) aimed at lowering the risk of concussions and spinal cord injuries on the ice by teaching players how to “play safe” and to “play better.”
Though there is much to learn about traumatic brain injury, more and more information is available to help players, parents and coaches do all they can to prevent and minimize the effects of concussion. The good news is that most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully.
Check it out:
According to the stopconcussions.com website, the following seven guidelines, if adhered to, will help prevent serious injury resulting from body contact.
1. Avoid hitting another player from behind.
- Respect everyone’s safety
- Avoid hitting from behind when near the boards
- Never hit to the head
2. Be aware of the checking perimeter.
- Checking perimeter is one metre from the boards
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings when in this area
- Be cautious at all times
3. Be ready to take a hit.
- Communicate with teammates
- Be ready, keep your legs moving, drive through the check and don’t slow down
- Look over your shoulders when going into the boards to know where people are
4. Keep your arms up when going into the boards.
- Get your arms up to absorb the impact
- Keep two hands on your stick; absorb impact with shoulders and legs
- Avoid going headfirst into the boards — keep your chin up
5. Always approach the boards at an angle.
- Avoid skating straight into the boards
- Look over your shoulders
- Retrieve the puck by approaching at an angle
- Keep moving
6. Keep your head up while handling the puck.
- Always have your head up while skating and stick handling
- Control your stick at all times
- Avoid making bad passes, and try to create optimum passing angles that allow your teammates to keep their heads up
7. Be the best skater you can be.
- Develop strong skating and good acceleration
- Always work on your backwards skating skills
- Increase balance and agility to improve turning and pivoting skills