What Parents Need to Know About Concussions and Ice Hockey
By Tracy Zaslow, MD, medical director, Sports Medicine and Concussion Program in Children’s Orthopaedic Center (COC) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Rebecca B. Koppel, premed student and mentee of Dr. Zaslow.
In hockey, concussions occur most often by getting “checked” by another player or falling, causing the head to hit the ice. A concussion is a head injury, affecting the brain that occurs as a result of direct or indirect head contact. Concussions may be even more symptomatic when the player being hit is not expecting the hit. This happens because the player who is not expecting the hit does not have time to use their neck muscles to maintain head stability and protect their head from hitting either the boards on the perimeter of the rink or ice. The concern over concussions and hockey players is a big topic in the media right now as seen on BusinessWeek.com, which is what inspired this blog post. Continue reading for ways you can help recognize if your little hockey player has a concussion and prevent head injuries.
Symptoms of a Concussion
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- New difficulties in school
- Sensitivity to light
If one or more of these symptoms are witnessed, it is likely your child has received a concussion and should stop playing immediately and seek further evaluation from a medical provider specialized in concussion care. Sometimes these symptoms will have a delayed start (beginning 24-48 hours after an injury), so be aware of your child’s behavior after they have hit their head.
More concussion symptoms can be found on Children’s Orthopaedic Center Sports Concussion Program handout. Feel free to print this and place it on your fridge at home, community board at work and at your local park.
Heads Up: Prevent a Concussion while Playing Ice Hockey
The most effective way for your child to prevent a concussion when they play hockey is to play with their “head up.” In order to play “heads up” hockey, your child must learn how to use their peripheral vision to make sure the puck is on their stick and be aware of all other action on the ice so they can handle their stick with their head up. This is a hard skill to master, but by attending a hockey stick handling clinic and with the help of good coaching, your child can learn to skate with their head up which will help them improve their anticipation of an incoming hit from another player.
In addition to playing “heads up” hockey, one of the most important ways to prevent concussions from happening is encouraging your child to learn correct checking technique and to observe the rules of the game. A well-fitted hockey helmet and mouth guard is important too. Keep in mind, helmets and mouth guards do not prevent concussions, but they do prevent more serious head and mouth injuries.
Post-Concussion Recovery and Return to the Game
If you, another parent, coach or your child thinks they sustained a concussion; your child needs to stop playing immediately and tell the nearest adult (coach, trainer, parent, etc.). Concussions are a very serious issue in hockey; athletes should NOT continue to play if any symptoms occur. A lot of rest is necessary to allow the brain to fully heal from the impact before play can begin again. If play is resumed too quickly and a second concussion occurs, a worse brain injury can occur.
Concussion treatment involves rest from both physical and mental activities until your child’s symptoms have gone away. This means no physical activity, no video games, no computer screen time, limited school work and sometimes even staying home from school.
Once all symptoms have gone away, an athletic trainer or other medical professional must evaluate your child the player before being allowed to return to full play. Returning to play involves a gradual step-wise sequence of increasing activity that includes:
- Skating with no contact
- If no symptoms recur, skating activity is increased to limited contact
- Full contact hockey practices.
If concussion symptoms return, your child should stop playing and rest.
Hockey is a sport with a high frequency of concussions; therefore, it is important for you and your hockey player to be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions to remain safe and be able to continue to enjoy the sport they love—hockey.