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Public meeting addresses concussions as training camps begin

Sep 17, 2011, 5:45 PM EST

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Sidney Crosby, Ray Shero AP

With training camps kicking off this weekend, the topic of concussions returned to the forefront of many hockey discussions. Perhaps that’s why the Outcomes following Concussion in Hockey (OuCH!) seminar was scheduled today at St. Michael’s Hopsital in Toronto.

About 200 people attended the public meeting, which addressed a wide variety of issues related to concussions in the sport.

Researcher Michael Hutchinson presented his observations from studying about 200 concussions that occurred in the NHL from the beginning of the 2007-08 season to midway through 2010. Some of Hutchison’s findings were pretty obvious. For instance, forwards suffer the most concussions, which seems sensible since there are more of them on the ice and they tend to touch the puck more often. There were some interesting observations, though, including the fact that concussions happen more often in the first period than the second or third.

Hutchison points out that this trend doesn’t follow the typical pattern of injuries.

“Generally athletic injuries have been thought to be sustained later on in the game when people are tired and fatigued,” he said. “And this was a situation where most of the concussions occurred in the first period.”

He speculated that high adrenaline and energy levels in the 20 minutes that follow the initial drop of the puck may lead to more contact between players, as may a team’s strategy to set the tone with aggressive forechecking.

James Christie of The Globe & Mail covered an interesting portion of the seminar that revolved around the mental health effects of concussions. One doctor referred to concussions as a “hidden injury” that cannot be treated like a normal broken bone or pulled muscle.

“I’ve spent 12 years doing this stuff in an acute setting, but what I haven’t seen is articles from the psychiatric point of view,” Dr. Shree Bhalerao told the conference, organized by Dr. Michael Cusimano, St. Michael’s neurosurgeon and pioneer in brain injury management. There will be between 15,000 and 20,000 concussive brain injuries across Canada this year, Dr. Cusimano said.

(snip)

“There’s still an attitude out there that brain injury is like a broken arm,” said Dr. Cusimano. “You can’t take your brain for granted.”

Dr. Cusimano told the audience that 30 percent of patients suffering from concussions exhibit signs of depression and “diminished motivation.” They tend to suffer from anxiety, increased irritability and “can lapse into substance abuse.” A worrisome 87 percent dealt with issues related to short-term memory, as well.

Of course, the most important goal is to prevent these injuries from happening – at least to the best of peoples’ abilities. Dr. Cusimano and others want actions to be taken now.

Dr. Cusimano said about one in 4,000 hockey players has a pro career “but about 70 per cent of young mothers are thinking they don’t want their young athletes playing hockey. “There’s an urgency to do something now, not 10 years from now,” he said.

It might take people some time to turn around what’s been called a “macho culture,” especially when that frame of mind isn’t always as foolish as it seems. After all, a player who sits out games because of injuries is more likely to lose his job, especially if that person is in a replaceable role like a lower-line grinder or an enforcer. Ultimately, it might take a little longer than experts would like, but at least discussions are pushing hockey leagues to become more progressive about serious head injuries.

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