It’s that time again.  Parents all over the country are lacing skates and checking helmets, praying there’s just one more year left in those shoulder pads.  It’s not something any parent wants to focus on but risk of injury is a reality of sport.  In every hockey rink in Canada, starting as young as Pee Wee level players, head injuries are prevalent.  And it’s not just hockey taking a beating with concussions – soccer, football, rugby, alpine skiing and basketball see concussions as well.

A concussion can be difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms may be subtle and easily overlooked.  Athletes may minimize or not recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion and, therefore, may not seek medical attention.  Suspected concussions have to be taken seriously.  A concussion results from a traumatic impact which disrupts and causes damage to the brain.  It is not always a direct blow to the head; this can happen from number of types of impact, ranging from a rough shoulder check to whiplash.

If an athlete returns to sport too soon before symptoms from a concussion are fully resolved, it can be potentially dangerous.  Second time around, it doesn’t take as hard a hit to cause symptoms, the symptoms are more severe, recovery takes longer, and full recovery is less likely.  Many coaches, parents and athletes do not realize that days or weeks may be needed before concussion symptoms resolve.

Second impact syndrome is a rare but serious condition in which a second concussion occurs before a first concussion has properly healed, causing rapid and severe brain swelling and often catastrophic results. Second impact syndrome can result from even a very mild concussion that occurs days or weeks after the initial concussion.

In order to prevent returning to play prematurely, and risking a subsequent concussion, all athletes involved in a sport where collision is a possibility, should have pre-injury “baseline” testing done.   This testing includes balance, co-ordination, vision, cognition, memory, comprehension, and recognition.  Following a concussive injury, athletes can be re-tested.  Re-test scores are compared to their own baseline results to determine any deficits present.  Post-concussion testing assists in the difficult decision of returning to play safely, reducing the risk of another head injury.

There are many tests for concussions on the market today, but it is important that multiple areas are tested to cover all the facets of physical and cognitive function.  Comprehensive treatment for a concussion helps to speed up the process of a safe return to work, school and activity.

Statistics do not need to be as high as they are for multiple concussions from sport.  Relying on concussion testing guidelines for return to play can help prevent unnecessary brain injury.

Sue Underhill is a physiotherapist and owner of Maximum Physiotherapy, where concussion baseline testing and re-testing is available.  Call for more info at 705-444-3600.