Concussions seem to be top of mind in the sports world lately, but until recently very little was known or said about these head injuries.
As Ron Taylor, two-time World Series champ turned Blue Jays team physician, puts it:
“Back in the ’60s we just got hit on the head and played,” he said. “Who knows who had a concussion.”
Now that former star athletes and professional sports leagues are addressing the issue, some parents have been wondering how safe their children are when playing sports.
Exactly one week after NHL star Sidney Crosby’s return from suffering a concussion, the Toronto District School Board held its first sports concussion forum for parents.
Leading the forum was neurologist Charles Tator, who is the founding president of ThinkFirst Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries. Tator admitted that at this point there are more questions than answers surrounding concussions.
“We know that the young brain is more susceptible to concussion than the adult brain,” he said. “That seems to be an especially vulnerable time for concussions.
“If they get a concussion it seems to last longer and have more effects on them than if it’s a very young kid or if it’s an adult.”
He mentioned current evidence indicates young people may actually recover more completely from concussions but it may take longer for that recovery to take place. According to Tator, part of the reason is because their brains are still developing while a second part has to do with neck muscles.
“The lack of neck muscle development in young people is quite extraordinary,” he said.
“We would like to recommend neck muscle strengthening exercises for all collision sports, so that includes hockey, football, rugby, soccer, basketball.”
Among the dozens of parents who attended were Sharon Kerr and her son David, a 17-year-old student. In late 2010, he incurred a concussion while practicing jiu-jitsu in a club outside of school and received two more in a fall and car accident in the following months. The head injury forced Kerr out of martial arts and prevented the student from attending class or even sitting at a computer.
“That was my life for a while,” he said. “I would literally just sit there and watch paint dry or something.
“The light hurt, the TV hurt, I couldn’t read and I was an avid reader.”
While Kerr still suffers from headaches and fatigue he said he is trying to make up for lost time and earn the credits needed to graduate.
According to the board’s program coordinator for health and physical education George Kourtis, the board is currently developing what it calls a Return to Learn program to help set some general guidelines about how to deal with the academic side of cases such as Kerr’s. The program is similar to the Return to Play program that the board has used for the past three years to help assess when a student can return to athletics.
“We said let’s identify not just when to return to physical activity but to the classroom,” Kourtis said.
Currently if a physician diagnoses a child with a concussion, the school’s principal is notified and how to proceed is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The Ontario government recently became the first province to pass legislation making concussion education mandatory in all school boards. Kourtis said the Toronto District School Board has already been educating coaches and said there is no disagreement amongst coaches about their main concern.
“We won’t sacrifice a child’s safety if we’re unsure if they got a concussion or not because winning isn’t the be all and end all when you’re playing (school) sports,” he said. “We always make sure that the safety of the kids is priority number one.”
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