There’s nothing more Canadian than enjoying a cold one while you watch a bunch of little kids hurtling themselves across the ice, hockey sticks in hand. But given the number of Canadians who wind up with concussions, should we rethink our addiction to contact sports? Are we pushing our children and ourselves too hard?
Nearly 20 per cent of Canadians report sports-related concussions
The Angus Reid Institute reports that 1 out of 5 Canadians has suffered from a concussion caused by playing sports. Though many of us have casual attitudes about sports-related concussions — or “getting your bell rung,” as some playfully call it — a concussion is a brain injury and shouldn’t be taken lightly. While effects are often temporary, including “headaches, vomiting, and problems with concentration, memory, balance, and coordination,” they can persist longer and, in extreme cases — as in the tragic case of 17-year-old Ontario rugby player Rowan Stringer — even lead to death.
Children most vulnerable to concussions
The real kicker in this new research? Most people they polled claimed to have suffered their concussions when they were under 18. Considering that youth are more vulnerable to concussions than adults are — because their brains are still developing and their recovery time is longer than that of adults — many parents are concerned about these findings. Some, like celebrity parent LeBron James, who doesn’t allow his son to play football given the health risks, are questioning whether kids should be playing contact sports at all.
Others are working to make the game safer for kids, and 65 per cent of Canadians think their provincial governments should play a role. Following 17-year-old Rowan Stringer’s death, the Ontario Legislature recently introduced Rowan’s Law, a law that aims to make contact sports safer for youth.
Female athletes hit harder than males
While men may have reported more concussions, that’s largely due to the fact that there are often higher numbers of men participating in group sports. Among male and female athletes, women and girls actually experience more concussions. Experts haven’t yet come to a consensus as to why this is. The severity of female athletes’ concussions also appears to be worse than that of males: Dr. Chi-Jen Chen, a professor at Taipei Medical University Shuang-Ho Hospital and co-author of a recent study on concussions, says there’s “evidence that women may have greater risk for developing working memory impairment after mTBI [a mild traumatic brain injury] and may have a longer recovery time.”
Many concussions go unreported
A concussion is bad enough — not seeking medical attention will just make matters worse. Yet over half of Canadians who reported getting sports-related concussions claim they never sought medical attention. It appears that the situation’s improving, though: Older adults were less likely than those aged 18 – 34 to have seen a doctor for concussions they suffered from as youths. These findings suggest that millennials are more likely than their older counterparts to have reported their concussions.
Playing the game anyway
The majority (67 per cent) of Canadians still say they think sports’ long-term health benefits “far outweigh” any risks posed by potential concussions. And who can blame them? Sports help us de-stress, connect with our communities and are a way of life for many of us. And they’re definitely not going away anytime soon, so those worried about the new findings on concussions would be best served by lobbying to make sports safer. And it’s safe to say that we’ve all seen enough of those loud, angry hockey moms and dads demanding “110 per cent.” Because that extra 10 per cent may just be the difference between a visit to the hospital and Dairy Queen post game.