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New Study Investigating Concussion in Hockey Players

Posted Dec 20 2010 8:37pm

As part of an ambitious new study investigating the effects of repeated head injuries on athletes, a Toronto-based medical team is requesting that hockey players will their brains to medical science.   The team is headed by one of Canada's foremost experts on concussions, Dr. Charles Tator of Toronto Western Hospital.  Dr. Tator has a longstanding interest in acute spinal cord and brain injury as well as founding the Canadian branch of the Think First Foundation ( ) to increase awareness of the debilitating effects of brain and spinal injuries.   Dr. Tator's research team consists of some of Canada's most prominent neurosurgeons, neuropathologists,  and other health professionals and is intended to gather information on the impact of repeated head injuries in hockey players.   Patterned after a Boston-based research project investigating the brains of professional football players, Dr. Tabor hopes that professional hockey players will agree to will their brains to science as they become aware of the program

Although the potentially devastating consequences of sports concussions are well-documented in professional boxers and wrestlers , similar findings are just beginning to be recognized in other sports.    The  research results from the Boston project involving football players have already shown that chronic traumatic encephalopathy resulting  from sports concussions can lead to long-term problems such as chronic headaches, personality changes, depression, and even dementia.  As an outspoken critic of aggressive hockey playing and the traditional practice of ignoring potentially dangerous concussions , Dr. Tator has pointed out that better aftercare is needed after even apparently minor head injuries.   In a recent seminar given this year, Dr. Tator and other experts from the Think First Foundation warned coaches, trainers, parents, and hockey players that  serious concussion may not lead to loss of consciousness (duration of unconsciousness has tended to be an informal measure of the severity of the head injury).   The seminar also stressed that players should not return to the ice unless they are symptom-free. 

The incidence of  repeated concussions in professional hockey is already a concern in the National Hockey League and shows no sign of subsiding despite increased awareness of the problem and greater precautions on the ice.  This includes the passage of Rule 48 imposing penalties on players for blindside hits aimed at the head of other players.   Awareness has also been raised by high-profile cases involving hockey players who have had their careers seriously derailed by sport-related concussions, including Peter MuellerBrett Lindros , and Marc Savard

Dr. Tator has stated that the research project is intended to be long-term in nature.  "The way I look at it, we are just at the beginning of a long-term study," Tator said. "It is not going to be over in a year or two, especially when we're talking about developing treatment. We are looking at 10 years on out."   One of the first brains to be donated to the study belonged to football player, Jay Roberts , who died earlier this year. 



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