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A closer look at concussions in hockey

02/20/2008, 9:15am MST
By USA Hockey

On Feb. 20, 2008, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a series of articles focusing on concussions in hockey. Reprinted with permission from The Gazette, USA Hockey brings you the collection of important information regarding this injury.
 
Excerpts of the three articles, written by Kate Crandall, are below with links to the full versions.
 
The dangers of having your bell rung
 
Concussion graphicDazed, dizzy, but driven to establish his place in the lineup, Colorado College forward Eric Walsky kept playing after an opponent’s shoulder check left a dent in his metal facemask.
 
Not until later, when the symptoms persisted, did Walsky admit to himself what had happened in the Tigers’ exhibition against the U.S. under-18 team. 
 
It was the fourth concussion of his career, although it was mild compared to one he suffered in junior hockey, when he couldn’t remember the date or where he was. 
 
Concussions occur after a direct blow to the head, face, neck or body. The force causes the brain to shift. That impact can immediately result in a wide range of symptoms including confusion, amnesia, loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of vision or loss of balance. Once a person has had one concussion, the odds greatly increase that another blow, even a small one, will result in a second concussion. 

Research has shown that multiple concussions can have a snowball effect, magnifying the symptoms, but no one is exactly sure what the longterm effects are, said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical officer.
 
Patience is key for players in recovering after concussions
 
As freshmen, Colorado College players take a cognitive test that measures mental facets such as memory in order to establish a baseline. 

Once a player suspects a concussion, he will retake the test to get an indication of his neurological health. 

If the player is diagnosed with a concussion, he is put on rest. 

Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey, said even reading and TV watching are discouraged. 

“The safe way is to recognize the concussion symptoms, give the brain a chance to rest and heal, gradually return to play and that gives you the best chance of being able to compete for the rest of the season,” Stuart said. 

Unlike most hockey injuries, which have somewhat predictable timetables for healing with ice and heat and can be patched up with tape, concussions require patience.
 
Equipment makes difference
 
Defenseman Nate Prosser suffered a serious concussion — his second in as many seasons — against North Dakota in early November. To return to play, Prosser was required to switch to a helmet with padding three-quarters of an inch thick that is adjustable on the back and sides for a snug fit. 

Many Colorado College players prefer lighter, smaller helmets with a thin layer of foam. 

While no equipment can guarantee protection from a concussion, CC equipment manager Ed Warner said he believes more helmet padding “can’t hurt.”

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