I was saddened to hear Sidney Crosby suffered another concussion. The injury is the result of an on-ice collision during practice Oct. 7. Crosby said the contact with an unnamed teammate seemed minor at time, but he woke up with a headache Oct. 8. The 29-year-old Stanley Cup champion went for tests Oct. 10 and was diagnosed with another concussion, his third as a professional athlete.
Sid the Kid missed a total of 107 games due to his previous concussions and at one point he wondered if he’d ever play hockey again. Although it was a dark and tragic time in his life, his injury sparked a whole new level of awareness about brain injuries and more specifically about head trauma in hockey.
In simple terms, Crosby’s injury helped Canadians realise how serious concussions are.
Crosby is taking the injury day-by-day and said he’s more optimistic about the recovery process because he’s been through this before. Still, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll have to retire. That would be a huge loss, but on the positive side it would draw attention to the topic of cerebral protection.
To help raise awareness about brain injuries, I’d like to share part of a conversation I had with Codi Isaac, a physiotherapist who specialises in concussions. She owns and operates Isaac Physiotherapy in Sherwood Park, Alta. A former gymnastics coach, she’s been a medical volunteer for hockey, rugby and curling events, including the Brier. Her clients have included members of the Edmonton Oilers.
DL: Until a few years ago, concussions were generally not taken seriously. They were also poorly understood by the public and even the medical community. Why is a concussion a serious injury?
CI: A concussion is a serious injury because it’s a brain injury. You can call it a mild traumatic brain injury but that has a difficulty to it in that they use the word mild. It’s a contradiction. When is a brain injury ever mild? Our brains are our control centres so how can you have a mild injury to a control centre?
DL: In a previous conversation, you mentioned that new technology is being developed to help detect concussions or concussion-like symptoms. One of these was by using smell. Could you tell me more about this tool?
CI: The sense of smell is located in a part of the brain where brain injuries occur. A couple of different groups, including one in Europe, have noticed that people with brain injuries have a decreased capacity to smell. They are developing a tool to help identify an injury. They may have a capacity to identify an injury but I don’t think they have the same capacity to say, ‘Now you’re recovered.’
If you want to talk interesting technology there’s diffusion tensor imaging. This is a way to scan the brain. What it records that is different than an MRI is the “wires” that information travels on. You don’t see the brain matter, but you see all the wires and the wires are very individual. The pictures are unbelievable as far as how pretty they are.
That’s where the concussion injury occurs. It’s a functional injury. You can’t see it. If you have an MRI because of a bruise or bleeding on the brain, you will see that injury but not the concussion. That’s why these diffusion tensor imagers are so amazing. You’re actually able to see it in the wiring.
DL: In other words, a concussion is a “wiring” injury?
CI: I view it as a communication injury. Something has disrupted the communication. There is really two parts to it and one is that there could be damage to the wiring itself, physical damage. The other part of it that has been documented is a chemical process that occurs that interrupts communication as well.
I think of it like my cell phone. I’m a phone dropper. I have dropped and broken phones like crazy. Once, I dropped a phone and I picked it back up and it wouldn’t turn on anymore. It was just gone, but there was nothing on the outside of it and there’s nothing if I opened it up that I could possibly see within the little pieces that look broken. That’s what happens with concussions.
DL: I recently read an article that said parents are increasingly hesitant to put their kids in sports because of the risk of concussions, any thoughts on that?
CI: I do imagine that’s a real concern. Hockey is huge for injury and there are an awful lot of kids out there who still dream of making the NHL. There is so much good that comes out of sports and competition and learning that you’re stronger than you think you are as an individual or if you work as a team.
DL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CI: There are ways to evaluate an injury and ways to recover. That gives me a huge amount of hope for this injury. People don’t need to suffer. You can get your life back.