Local doctor: Hockey helmets not enough to prevent concussions
Data collected by the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study Database ranks boys' hockey as the sport with the third highest rate of concussions in youth sports. According to usahockey.com, nearly 568,000 kids played hockey in the United States last year.
One thing that may be on the minds of hockey coaches and parents is how to prevent their young athletes from suffering concussions.
Chippewa Falls High School boys' hockey head coach, Scott Parker, said hard hits are just a part of the game.
“Hockey is a game that is going to be physical, but we can do it the right way,” Parker said.
Dr. Adam Atkins is a Sports Medicine Doctor with Marshfield Clinic Health Systems.
“Not all traumatic brain injuries are concussions, but all concussions are traumatic brain injuries,” Atkins said.
For Parker, he has seen the toll repeated head trauma can have on a person. His brother Jeff played professionally for five seasons.
“He [Jeff] was playing for Hartford and he took a massive hit from Dale Hunter,” Parker said. “His head hit the glass and fell back on the ice.”
Dr. Atkins said concussions can be difficult to diagnose, because there is not a true test.
“One thing that is hard to do in research is, okay what hits actually produce a concussion and which hits don't,” Atkins said. “That's very individualized and that's where we have problems trying to take the data and research and study and apply it to the general population.”
While some may think concussions are only caused by head-shots, Dr. Atkins said you don't have to be hit in the head or knocked out to suffer a concussion.
“You could get hit in the body and there could be a jar to the head,” he said. “If your brain, basically, sloshes around inside your skull, that can be enough to cause that chemical imbalance and a concussion.”
Dr. Atkins said a concussion will usually resolve within 7-10 days. But the real danger is getting a second concussion before the symptoms of the first go away.
“That's called second impact syndrome and that's where we see the real bad problems like a coma or permanent brain damage,” he said.
Parker said after the hit his brother took, he was never really the same.
“When you deal with someone with a head injury, there are a lot of things that are the same about them, but there are a lot of things that changed,” he said. “You can fix a broken arm or a busted leg, but you can't really fix the brain.”
Jeff Parker died in 2017. An autopsy revealed he had Stage 3 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, an Alzheimer’s-like disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
“Helmet safety was not something everyone talked about as much,” he said.
Dr. Atkins said while helmet technology has improved, there will never be a 100% truly concussion-proof hockey helmet.
“People that wear the top of the line helmets with a 5-Star rating, they can still sustain a concussion.”
For Parker, he said hockey will always be a part of him.
“I had fun growing up with my brothers playing hockey. We're a hockey family.”