Posted on December 17, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

Old ways die hard, even if they fly in the face of medical research and could lead to brain damage for young athletes.

A Canadian study, published last month in the journal Neurosurgical Focus, found that two universities made hockey players return to games even when it was apparent that they had suffered concussions. Here’s the kicker: Coaches had these players go back even though the teams were participating in this major concussion study.

The New York Times did a story on the study, where it summarized the problem quite eloquently, namely that “playing through head injuries … is so deeply rooted” in ice hockey that coaches don’t really even care if a player has a concussion, scientific research be damned.

The study was performed by scientists from the University of Montreal, Harvard, the University of Western Ontario and several other schools. They followed two college hockey teams, one male and one female, during the 2011-2012 season, The Times reported. Players’ brains were scanned at various points, including after they had head trauma.

Even though the players and schools had obviously agreed to participate in the research, coaches and athletes ended up “ignoring medical advice or otherwise obstructing the study,” The Times reported.

The study offered several examples of players being sent back on the ice, with coaches simply ignoring — or better yet, defying — medical advice. That’s when researchers gave coaches a bit of a talking to about the long-term effects of concussions.

But here is what the report said:

“In some circumstances, a culture of intimidation practiced by coaches was extended to physician observers working on the study. Hockey culture is familiar with coach admonishments to play through injuries, or to ‘suck it up.’ During this study a coach said, ‘Unless something is broken I want them out playing.’”

In one incident cited in the study, a neurologist saw a  male hockey player take several hits, according to The Times, and the player complained of feeling dizzy. But the coach sent him back in the second period to “skate it off,” The Times reported.

The player did poorly the rest of the game, and afterward the neurologist told him and the trainer that the youth needed to be evaluated under concussion protocol before he returned to the ice. But guess what? The next night the youth was playing again.

According to The Times, when the neurologist asked the trainer what had happened, the trainer said he and the player didn’t understand the physician’s recommendation, “and that most of the team did not trust the neurologist.”

The lead author of the study, Dr. Paul Echlin, also had a team that did research on  two Canadian junior hockey teams.

“Coaches and trainers resisted that study as well, and one of the two junior teams dropped out during the season,” The Times said.

That second study found that concussions among those hockey players were considerably higher that previously reported.

The bottom line from Echlin was that “a cultural shift” is needed to treat and prevent the brain injury “that is occurring at epidemic proportions.”


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447