Head injuries still at forefront of discussion and research
By: Tom Dougherty | FF_TomDougherty
When Philadelphia Flyers center Jeremy Roenick lost a defensive zone faceoff during the third period of a game against the New York Rangers Feb. 12, 2004, Roenick quickly found himself collapsing on the ice, lying in a puddle of blood.
Roenick, who was hit in the face by a slap shot off the stick of Rangers defenseman Boris Mironov, suffered a fractured jaw and his ninth concussion.
“I lost the draw in my defensive zone,” Roenick said. “Mironov came at me with a massive shot and destroyed my face.”
Roenick’s jaw was fractured in 19 places, and was wired shut. He told ESPN that his concussion was his “biggest challenge of his career,” but he returned to game action ahead of schedule to help the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference Final, scoring 13 points along the way.
Then Roenick suffered another concussion during the postseason run.
“It was not a good summer. It was a long recovery stage.” Roenick said.
Roenick is only one of many professional athletes who have suffered more than one concussion during their playing days. Concussions and post-concussion syndrome has been a subject of research by many medical institutions among collegian and professional athletes, according to studies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a concussion as a type of a traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.
According to the CDC, concussions affect a wide range of functional short or long term changes which affect a person’s thinking, sensation, language or emotions. Repeated injuries to the brain can cause permanent damage to the brain, experts said.
“To me, it would be a reason to stop playing sports,” said Dr. Steven Galetta, a neurologist at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania. “If somebody had these persistent concussive effects, they probably shouldn’t get hit in the head again.”
The University of Washington Medical Center said that post-concussion syndrome happens when symptoms of a concussion continue for months. These symptoms include headaches, neck pain, sleep pattern changes, dizziness, memory problems, noise sensitivity, personality changes, fatigue, and nausea and vomiting.
But doctors cannot explain why post-concussion syndrome occurs, and why it affects some more than others.
“Yeah, we don’t really know that,” Galetta said. “We don’t have any particular biomarker to understand why somebody is more vulnerable.”
The recovery from concussions requires a lot of rest, both mentally and physically. According to the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, child and teenage athletes might be expected to have a slower recovery than college-aged athletes or older athletes.
According to the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, most concussions are resolved in seven-10 days, although it may be longer in children and adolescents.
“Because you have a developing brain, their necks aren’t as strong so they might get whipped,” Galetta said. “Their total body weights are lower so they could get launched by a much bigger kid. If some young kid who doesn’t have high body weight or neck strength gets launched by a much bigger kid, [they] might have a lot more whiplash.”
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality collected statistics from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project on emergency department visits for sports-related concussions in 2008. According to this Statistical Brief, 58 percent of ED visits was for youths ages 14 to 18 years old while less than one-tenth were 24 and older.
“To me, that’s where we really have to make a big effort,” Galetta said. “Listen, it’s important for everyone to know what they are doing to their brain, but the youth in particular because they don’t have the education or knowledge.”
Galetta and his colleagues at HUP have been working on a new sideline test called the King-Devick, which is a “rapid number-naming test that helps figure out if a player suffered a concussion.”
The King-Devick test takes less than a minute to do, and is conducted by giving a player three cards, then asking them to count 40 numbers as fast as they can. There are other protocols to determine concussions, but Galetta said this KD test is “practical” for sideline testing.
“We’re trying to do this to validate tests to help the coach or trainers predict concussions,” Galetta said.” We need something easy like this that’s objective and can be measured to help because you don’t want to put a kid back in, right?”
This year, the neurologists at HUP tested the KD test on the Flyers in addition to other testing the NHL requires of its teams. Galetta said that HUP wants to educate parents about the effects of a concussion on the brain by passing on research found in professional sports.
“We need to take these highly publicized media cases and educate people,” Galetta said. “And get that down to the level of the parents so they can make informed decisions about their kid. The kids are the group I’m most worried about.”
His ninth concussion didn’t stop Roenick from playing hockey. He returned later that year, and played five more years before hanging up his skates. Today, Roenick is a TV analyst for VERSUS, and is doing fine, he said.
Roenick will play in the Flyers-Rangers alumni game Dec. 31 at Citizens Bank Park.
“[I have] no side effects. I’ve been able to recover very well [from my concussions],” Roenick added. “If anything, I have short-term memory.”