A debate that has consumed hockey in recent years is how dangerous it is for the players. Because of repeated checking, and the sports violent nature, players commonly experience head injuries like concussions. A concussion is also called a ‘mild traumatic brain injury’, and it usually starts with a hit to the head. This can then lead to a ‘diffuse brain injury’, meaning that a larger part of the brain becomes affected.
While concussions are commonly believed to be mostly prevalent in violent sports, they can also occur in other sports that are considered to be less risky. Interestingly, female soccer players are most likely to have a concussion when compared to players of any other sport. Thats likely due to a lack of protective head gear and in-game contact.
With concussions, there are two main types of injuries; Coup-contrecoup injuries, and torque injuries. In Coup-contrecoup injuries, the ‘coup’ injury occurs at the point of impact, while the ‘countrecoup’ injury occurs when the brain ricochets from the hit and collides with the inside of the skull on the opposite side of the point of impact. A torque injury is rotational, and causes the brain to twist relative to the brainstem. This stretches various regions of the brain including a structure known as the “reticular formation”. This structure is responsible for controlling consciousness. If the reticular formation gets stretched and damaged, it can make a person have a blackout.
Losing consciousness even for a brief period of time, is a red flag for having had a concussion. Other red flags after the trauma include having a seizure, increased sleepiness or confusion, worsening headache, persistent vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. In general, for a hockey coach, if there is any concern for a concussion, a good rule to remember is: “when in doubt; sit him out.”
The treatment for concussions generally involves 24-48 hours of rest. After that, student athletes can return to the class room. While they might struggle for a few weeks with memory and concentration in class, only when an athlete is completely free of symptoms, should they be allowed to return to the sport with incremental increases in physical activity.
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