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Club News Story

The Trouble with Concussions

2013 / 04 / 08


They’re hard to diagnose, and helmets aren’t a panacea, experts say.

Almost every other day, we hear about at least one elite athlete who has suffered a debilitating concussion. Sometimes, he or she is forced to sit on the sidelines for a week, a month or might even retire early for fear that one more blow to the head could cause long-term brain damage.

Has sport become more dangerous, or have we become better at diagnosing concussions? According to Scott Delaney, research director of the MUHC department of emergency medicine, many pro teams now employ independent spotters who watch the game from a vantage point that allows them to pick up what on-field medical staff may miss. So at the elite level, at least, diagnoses are being given more efficiently after a blow to the head.

“Acutely, it’s generally not difficult to decide whether an athlete has a concussion,” Delaney said. “But the longer it takes before an assessment can be made, the more difficult it is to diagnose.”

That’s the trouble with concussions. Not only do they evolve over time, they are best diagnosed by a trained health-care professional as soon as possible after the brain collides with skull. The problem is most athletes don’t have access to a professionally administered sideline diagnosis, which means too many players are shaking off a hit to the head and getting back in the game.

Making sport safer for kids is important, as children under 13 take longer to heal from concussions than adults and adolescents. And they often lack the knowledge and communication skills to report symptoms after a hit, collision or fall.

The experts who authored the Consensus on Concussion in Sport recommend that all concussions be treated the same, regardless of whether the athlete receives a paycheque to play or not. Under no circumstances should any athlete return to play on the same day that they sustain a concussion or suspected concussion.

“The cornerstone of concussion management is physical and cognitive rest until the acute symptoms resolve and then a graded program of exertion prior to medical clearance and return to play,” states the 2012 Consensus Statement on Concussions in Sport.

Delaney said quick and decisive action after the first concussion means better long-term results and less chance of a reoccurrence. And while high-profile concussions like the ones hockey player Sidney Crosby suffered have improved awareness about the dangers of concussions, there are still too few players, coaches and parents employing the “when in doubt sit out” rule after a blow to the head — something the 2012 Consensus on Concussion in Sports aims to change.Read more

“ The future depends on what we do in the present. ”
– Mahatma Ghandi