Minor league hockey players unable to identify concussion symptoms, study says

    Research calls for better preventative and educational strategies to
    prevent serious health consequences like those seen in some NHL stars

    TORONTO, May 27 /CNW/ - When Chicago Blackhawk's leading scorer Martin
Havlat returned to the ice for game four of the Western Conference Final after
sustaining a concussion only two days earlier, questions were raised
surrounding his swift return. According to a new study by St. Michael's
Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Cusimano, similar questions were raised by
25% of minor league hockey players who did not know if an athlete with
symptoms of a concussion should continue to play hockey. Nearly a majority of
these players were also unable to identify a concussion or its related
    The findings are part of a study by Dr. Cusimano that analyzed the
concussion knowledge of 142 adults (coaches, trainers and parents) and 267
players from GTA Atom (10-years-old), Bantam (14-years-old), AA (highly
competitive) and house league divisions. The study is published in the May
edition of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.
    "Serious misconceptions exist among minor league hockey players,
athletes, coaches and parents when it comes to understanding the signs and
symptoms of a concussion and its treatment," said Dr. Cusimano, a professor of
neurosurgery, education and public health at the University of Toronto and
vice-president of ThinkFirst Canada, a national injury prevention
organization. "While many can identify how a concussion may occur, most cannot
identify the symptoms and are under the impression that concussions can be
treated with physician-prescribed medication or physical therapy. Many also
believe it's okay to return to play before they have fully recovered from such
a brain injury. This is troublesome since repeated brain injuries can lead to
long term effects in functions such as memory, behaviour, mood, social
relations and school or work performance."

    Key findings of the study include:

    -  Up to two thirds of players had the mistaken impression that a player
       does not have to lose consciousness to have suffered a concussion
    -  A quarter of adults and up to half of children could not identify any
       symptoms of a concussion or could name only one symptom of a
    -  About one-half of players and a fifth of adults mistakenly believed
       concussions are treated with medication or physical therapy
    -  About a quarter of all players did not know if an athlete experiencing
       symptoms of a concussion should continue playing
    -  About 4 in 10 of younger players and 3 in 10 of the older players
       thought a concussed athlete could return to play when feeling "90%
       better" or "while experiencing a mild headache for the next game as
       long as it's at least two days later."

    In Canada, ice hockey is the main cause of sports-related traumatic brain
injury. Statistics suggest youth 5-17 have about 2.8 concussions per 1,000
player-hours of ice hockey while university and elite amateur players sustain
rates of 4.2 and 6.6 concussions per 1,000 player hours.
    Concussions have forced many NHL players like Brett Lindros and Pat
LaFontaine to retire early and others like Eric Lindros and goalie Mike
Richter to stay off the ice for an extended time because of repeated head
injuries. Concussions can have cumulative and lasting effects on memory,
judgment, social conduct, reflexes, speech, balance and co-ordination. Key to
preventing repeated injuries is to recognize the symptoms of concussion when
they occur and knowing how to deal with their effects.
    "Motivation to win, the wish to advance in their sport and earning the
acceptance of their team-mates often outweigh an athletes' decision, or their
parents' or coaches' decision, to play safe. This mind-set, coupled with the
influence of media and behaviour of some parents, coaches and officials,
unfortunately send a clear message that it is more important to continue to
play injured than take someone out of the game," said Dr. Cusimano. "This 'win
at all costs' attitude places added responsibility on parents, coaches and
medical professionals to recognize symptoms of a concussion and take all
necessary steps to ensure a culture of healthy attitudes and behaviours among
players and in leagues."
    Changes in rules such as removing fighting and body checking, proper use
of helmets, softer shoulder and elbow pads, improved enforcement of rules,
educational efforts and recognizing the critical role that professionals and
the media have in shaping the culture of the sport would be beneficial, he

    St. Michael's Hospital is a large and vibrant, teaching and research
hospital in the heart of Toronto. Fully affiliated with the University of
Toronto, St. Michael's Hospital leads with innovation, and serves with
compassion. Renowned for providing exceptional patient care, St. Michael's
Hospital is a regional trauma centre and downtown Toronto's designated adult
trauma centre.

For further information:

For further information: Julie Saccone, Media Relations, St. Michael's
Hospital, (416) 864-5047, sacconej@smh.toronto.on.ca

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