Parents: 5 ways to be proactive about concussions this hockey season
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the hockey community’s approach to concussions—no longer is it seen as a simple case of “having your bell rung”. Today, hockey players, coaching staff, professionals and parents recognize the importance of preventing, identifying and managing concussion injuries.
Some steps have been taken at the league level to address the issue, like instituting new penalties for improper checking and offering player and coach education, but as the game continues to get faster and equipment gets bulkier, the problem isn’t going away any time soon.
This can leave many parents feeling anxious and helpless heading into hockey season. But, this doesn’t have to be the case. By realizing the risk, getting educated and taking a few precautionary steps, parents can take a proactive approach to concussions that will keep their kids safer on the ice and better prepared in the unfortunate event they sustain a traumatic brain injury.
For easy reference, we've created a Tip Sheet that you can read and download here: [ProActive About Concussions Tip Sheet PDF]
5 ways you can be proactive about concussions
1. Acknowledge the risk, but don’t let it hold you back.
Concussions should certainly be taken seriously as an injury, but it’s important that parents don’t become paralyzed by fear. There are some great resources out there—the very best thing you can do is to get informed and be proactive about it. A few places to start include Parachute Canada’s Guideline on Concussion in Sport, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Concussion in Sport Info Sheet and Hockey Canada’s Concussion Card.
2. Opt for custom-made, properly fitted mouth guards.
A common misconception is that hockey helmets are the single piece of equipment that can prevent concussions. While helmets do protect against localized head injuries such as skull fractures, they have not actually been proven to prevent concussions.
However, custom-made, properly fitted mouth guards (rather than over-the-counter mouth guards purchased at sports stores) have been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of sustaining a sports-related concussion. According to a 2014 study in the UK, high school football players wearing store-bought mouth guards were more than twice as likely to suffer concussions than those wearing custom-made fitted mouth guards. Looking for a local supplier of custom-made mouthguards? Try Kara Evershed at Grin Guard.
It should be mentioned that while hockey helmets are not proven to prevent concussions, it is still critical to ensure your child wears proper, well-fitted equipment to protect against other injuries. Make sure your child’s helmet is snug and the strap is properly fastened at all times. Also, mouth guards only work if they are worn properly and not chewed. If you’re looking for more information about how to select properly fitted equipment, Hockey Canada has some great resources.
3. Talk with your child about playing safe and with respect and model that behaviour as a spectator.
Players have a huge role to play in preventing concussions by playing fairly and safely. We encourage you to talk to your child about sportsmanship and what makes for responsible behaviour on the ice. Consider discussing why certain rules (like never checking to the head and never hitting from behind) must be respected at all times for the safety of themselves and their fellow players.
As a parent, you also play a critical part as a role model for your child and other players. If you do your best to demonstrate respect for the officials, players and coaches and avoid negativity (for example, when penalties are called), your child is more likely to share the same sense of respect for the rules of the game.
4. Learn more about baseline testing.
Baseline tests consist of a series of assessment tools that are designed to be completed by athletes prior to participant in sport. The theory is that the tests provide baseline measurements that can be compared to post-injury results in the event of a suspected concussion. Although research continues to improve, there are limitations to the tests and they are by no means required to provide post-injury care to those who are suspected of having sustained a concussion.
However, because the effects of concussions can vary so dramatically from person to person, baseline tests can be helpful in identifying impairments caused by the injury and help guide management recommendations. At ProActive Rehab & Sport Injury Centre, we assess and treat concussions using the Shift Concussion Management Program. Our initial assessment consists of a neurocognitive computer-based test, an assessment of your vestibular (inner ear) and oculomotor (visual) systems, a balance and gait assessment and a musculoskeletal assessment of your neck.
We use the information from this assessment to help guide our clients through the stages of concussion treatment: rest, gradual return to daily activities, return to work and school and a staged return to sport, in addition to treating and managing symptoms. Through this protocol we can successfully help your child get back to normal life and ensure they are not left with lingering problems that could affect their future.
5. Learn to spot the signs and seek professional care quickly if you suspect a concussion.
Concussions are often referred to as the “invisible injury” because they don’t show up in CT scans, x-rays or MRIs. This makes them difficult to detect and diagnose. Any impact to the head, face or neck or a blow to the body which causes a sudden jolting of the head can cause a concussion. A person does not have to be “knocked out” or lose consciousness to sustain one.
If you suspect your child has sustained a concussion, they should be removed from play immediately and assessed by a physician as soon as possible.
While the effects of a concussion vary from person to person, common signs and symptoms include:
- Headaches or head pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Emotional changes (sadness, easily upset or angered, nervousness or anxiety)
- Blurred or fuzzy vision
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Sleep disturbance (sleeping more or less, having a hard time falling asleep)
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- Difficulty working on a computer or reading
- Feeling “dazed”, “fuzzy” or not thinking clearly
For a more complete list of signs and symptoms, check out Parachute Canada’s Pre-Season Concussion Education Sheet.
Be aware that signs and symptoms may have a delayed onset (may be worse later that day or even the next morning). Always be sure to continue to monitor players, even after the initial symptoms and signs have returned to normal.
If you have any questions about concussions or how we manage them at ProActive Rehab, get in touch! Email us at email@example.com or give us a call at (705) 788-1480.