Concussions: The Headache Continues

“Three times it happened and I was never asked any questions. The question was ‘are you OK?’ Yeah,
I’m OK. Well, get back out there.’ That was the way it was handled back then.” — former NHL player
Mike Bossy on how concussions were treated in the 1970s and 1980s (Brockville Recorder and Times,
Sep. 28, 2011)

A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. It causes a variety of physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms, which may not be recognized if subtle, and those who have had one concussion are more susceptible to another especially if the new injury occurs before symptoms from the previous concussion have not completely resolved.

Hockey players, like any other athlete in contact sports, have a soldier-like mentality when the game begins. If you can and breathe, you can play. That testosterone mind-set has taken back seat in today's game when we speak of concussions. A concussion is not something where you can “rub some dirt on it” and get back in the game, only time and rest will help treat it but the symptoms, although lessened, in most cases will remain. Many players have already felt the crippling effects of concussions, no one bothered to ask questions as many suffered in silence; never showing weakness. Take reference to Darcy Tucker's hit on Sami Kapanen (YouTube it if you have to). This guy gets crunched, takes 15 seconds to makes it to the bench in what was a terrifying attempt at cognitive function and has the plums to tell the
coach “I'm Alright” and go back out there. Pat on the pads and away he goes, no questions asked. Given the effect it has on players, how has the game of hockey at the professional level implemented a plan to protect it players today?

In March 16th 2011, the National Hockey League imposed a protocol for players suspected of having a concussion. They will be removed from the game and sent to a quiet place free from distraction so they can be examined by the on-site team physician. Using the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool test to evaluate the player, looking for symptoms such as loss of consciousness, loss of motor coordination or
balance problems, a blank or vacant look, slow to get up after a hit to the head, disorientation, clutching of the head after a hit or visible facial injury in combination with another symptom.

Hockey Canada has produced a mobile application to help diagnose concussions for players at every level of play. Most recently Saint Anslem College has become the first US College to install the “Look-up Line”, a stripe of paint 3 feet extending from the base boards which is hockey first “Warning Track” to notified players they are can be susceptible to dangerous hits if the are admiring their skate laces. Are there more concussions now? Debatable. In the early years boards were set in concrete so if you
went into them your body absorbed 100% of the contact. Today's game is also played at an immensely higher pace with elbow pads and shoulder pads increased in both size and durability which may protect you but poses a significant threat those on the wrong side of the trolly tracks. But we all can agree, the prevention and awareness of concussions in the not only the game of hockey but in sports have come leaps and bounds from previous instances.

Any contact sport gauges the risk of injury and concussions are no exception, you can insert as many precautionary measurements as you like but they will never be removed from sport. Rest assured the only guaranteed way to avoid concussions in hockey; don't play.


-Jacob for 4th Line Hockey

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