Concussions in youth hockey players may have detrimental effects

February 17, 2015

Topic: concussions

In the past, research has proven that some hockey helmets may cause people to get concussions more easily. However, a new rating system may change all that.

Researchers from the University of Vermont found that youth hockey players who sustain a concussion on the ice may experience more damage than previously believed. The team found that when a young athlete receives a concussion, he or she may experience changes in the cortex in the following weeks and months. The startling findings, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, have researchers concerned and believing they may need to change a few rules in hockey. 

"Approximately 300,000 sports-related concussions occur among all sports at various levels in the United States."

Serious changes
Approximately 300,000 sports-related concussions occur among all sports at various levels in the United States, according to previous research by the group. The study authors believe that allowing players to be hit in the head should be eliminated from all levels of hockey. They also noted that the rules on checking should be changed and the sport should ban fighting in both professional and amateur play. The researchers noted that hockey players put their bodies at risk in a series of ways, including colliding frequently, skating at high speeds and fighting.

The researchers came across their discoveries by studying 29 hockey players at the University of Vermont who were between the ages of 14 and 23. The participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans and a set of cognitive tests. They found that as the concussions got more severe, the lining of the cortex, which is a layer that sits on the outside of the brain, got thinner. 

The cortex is responsible for several functions in the brain, including thinking and reasoning. The cortex may also deal with parts of the brain involved in vision and hearing, and help the eyes move around and the body's arms and legs function. They noted that given the age of the participants, these results could be dangerous and may suggest that people who have a developing brain could be at risk of greater brain damage. 

The researchers stated that their work is far from over. They hope to learn more about the health behind hockey players and determine whether other causes may be involved in brain atrophy as well. They noted that they plan to continue to monitor this group of players over a long period of time and figure out how the brain heals itself and what may change. They also want to witness the behavior of these particular players and find out whether they engage in any activities that may further hurt their brain, such as substance abuse. 

The study authors are already in a follow-up study where they compare the imaging scans of the hockey players to nonathletes. They found some of the athletes had a considerable amount of hyperintensities, which are simply bright spots on the brain. A healthy brain should only develop one spot every 10 years. One of the college players had 18 bright spots. Though the findings are frightening, the researchers hope they can educate families and athletes on the right methods to avoid these types of head injuries. 

Andrews Institute can help athletes recover from concussions.Andrews Institute can help athletes recover from concussions.

Making comparisons
The current research was inspired by previous studies that investigated the effects of head traumas in other sports and their long-term effects on athletes, such as football players. The study authors noted that despite their dismal results, they believe that if symptoms are caught early enough, they may be reversed. 

They noted that the first steps begin off the field or ice, with the coaches and staff involved. Being able to teach this group the right way to handle injury and recognize when a player's head is OK and when it is not is half the battle. It may make the difference between getting the right treatment needed at the right time and not getting it at all. The concept of a concussion differs among every coach, mainly because the symptoms vary depending on the condition's severity. The study authors believe creating a clearer definition or series of definitions can help coaches and staff realize when a person is not suitable for play. Continual play of any sport could put the person at risk of being hit again, worsening the concussion and possibly causing a significant traumatic brain injury. 

The researchers hope to examine different age groups of hockey players, both male and female, beginning at age 8 and working up to retired professional hockey players. They plan to use soccer players as a comparison group, as this sport involves fewer head injuries. 

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