Friday, July 23, 2010

A Growing Crisis - Concussions in Sport

This article was first published in the July 23rd edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Over the next few months, while continuing to bring news and interviews from around the sports world, some of my columns in Main Street will take on a more serious tone, as The Voice of Sport examines the growing crisis of concussions in sport. While the research in recent years has revealed startling new evidence regarding the life-altering consequences of multiple concussions, many media members and sports fans have failed to see the significance of this crisis.

In the past, knowing the extent of injuries and the length of rehabilitation required has been straightforward, and thanks to modern technology, players will often return to action better then ever. However, a new uncertainty is entering the sports world; while the spotlight shines on the NHL or the NFL when another headshot makes the highlight reel, the reality is that the number of concussions amongst teenagers and recreational athletes is also growing at an alarming rate. More then ever, perhaps due to an increased awareness of the injury, young athletes and teenagers are arriving at hospital emergency rooms with brain injuries from sports. Coaches must learn the symptoms and significance of the injury; parents must also become aware of what is taking place on the field or on the ice.

Professional sports leagues around the world are attempting to reduce the number of concussions in high-impact sports and gauge the economic impact of star players missing significant time due to these debilitating injuries. The situation is complicated in the pro leagues because the athletes are all adults and there are sometimes millions of dollars involved if a player misses significant time. If players are aware of the consequences of returning to action too soon, and they choose to return anyway, it is their decision. That is one of the key factors in this debate though, are the players informed about all of the consequences? When examining youth sports however, many concussions go undetected and undiagnosed as players are simply asked if they are “good to go” after having their “bell rung” - an alarming thought!

Research groups like the Sports Legacy Institute are devoting a great deal of time, effort, and energy, working to raise awareness amongst athletes in the professional leagues, as well as among young recreational athletes. In conjunction with Boston University, SLI co-founders Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and advance the research in diagnosing and treating concussions and the long-term effects associated with head injuries. In Canada, the ThinkFirst Foundation has operated as a non-profit organization since 1992 to promote safety and awareness. Founded by Dr. Charles Tator, ThinkFirst enlists the help of volunteers to educate and protect Canadian children from the debilitating effects of concussions.

In a 2003 report (available at the SLI website), the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported to the US Congress that approximately 1.5 million people experience a “traumatic brain injury” (TBI) every year in the United States; the estimated cost of treating this injury in the US is a staggering $17 Billion dollars. While not all of these injuries occurred on the sports field, many sports related injuries often go undiagnosed or unreported - the numbers and the cost would certainly increase if they were reported. It is one thing to injure a knee or an elbow; it is quite another matter all together when you have injured your brain. According to the CDC, in 1999, as many as 5.3 million Americans were living with a permanent disability linked to a TBI.

The numbers are staggering; the ramifications of multiple head injuries are shocking. Watch for more information in future columns as TVOS investigates this growing crisis in sport. Have a great sports day everyone - and remember to have fun, but play safe.

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