Just last month Ontario passed Canada’s first ever concussion-related legislation entitled “Rowans Law”. The law is in memory of Rowan Stringer, a high school rugby player who died after sustaining a head injury. This legislation addresses the importance of greater awareness and treatment for concussions in youth sport.
Research has found that between 65 percent and 80 percent of concussions are unrecognized at least initially. Moreover, athletes who have suffered one concussion are at increased risk of another concussion and therefore of "second impact syndrome” which is a concussion that occurs before the brain has fully recovered from the first trauma. This is where the most severe, long-term damage can occur in an athlete and is what lead to the death of Rowan Stringer.
As a parent, statistics like this can be very frightening. Often parents will ask me if they should continue to allow their children to compete in sport out of fear of concussions. Decisions like this should not be based in fear. Education is power. Here are some guidelines to help parents keep their kids’ safe this season.
• Educate yourself. Learn the symptoms of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Review parchutecanada.org for information on what constitutes a concussion and how to identify if your child may have one.
• Educate your children. Review the information with your child at the beginning of the season and quiz your child on the symptoms on an ongoing basis.
• Encourage open communication with coaching staff. Introduce yourself to your child’s coaching staff. Ask your child's coach how he or she will be conducting concussion education over the course of the season. Continue to maintain regular contact with the coach over the season and encourage your child to talk to his coach on a regular basis so he or she develops a comfortable and open relationship with their coach. Having an honest relationship with the coach and knowing that you are communicating with the coach regularly will encourage your child to air concerns more openly should he or she sustain a concussion or injury in play.
• Identify the medical professionals. Identify who the trainers or medical professionals are within your child's sports organization or school and find out if they will be attending games and practices. Always know who is in charge of medical care or whom to speak with should your child ever get hurt. Make sure your child's medical information is always on file and up to date with their sports organization and school.
• Celebrate safe play and good sportsmanship. Make an extra effort to celebrate when your child makes a play that is completed with good form and technique. If you see your child making plays that are overly violent, talk to your child about it immediately after the game. If you have concerns consider following up with your child's coach to review how you can help reinforce safe play with your child, which will help reinforce to the coach that you want your child being coached safely.
• GET BASELINE TESTING- As a sports injury expert this is a very important step in keeping my young patients safe. I conduct these assessments for every one of my young athletes. Baseline testing is a pre-season exam and is used to assess an athlete’s balance and brain function (including learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly he or she thinks and solve problems), as well as for the presence of any concussion symptoms. Results from baseline tests can be used and compared to a similar exam conducted by a health care professional during the season if an athlete has a suspected concussion. Comparing post-injury test results to baseline test results can assist health care professionals in identifying the effects of the injury and making more informed return to school and play decisions.
Although there is no fool proof method to prevent concussions, arming yourself with information will help parents make more confident decisions should an injury occur.
Here’s to a safe season!