Head Injuries, CTE, and the NHL

There has been a lot of coverage in the media of late regarding head injuries in the NHL. Study of Bob Probert’s brain showing he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has underscored much of the discussion – there has been as much focus on how injuries affect the lives of the players involved, as has been on the impact to the game.

The vast amount of discussion leaves me with 2 major thoughts: why are players allowed to continue to wear dangerous equipment in such a high impact environment; and, what are the impacts of this CTE report regarding Probert on my own life?

When I was younger and hockey equipment padding consisted of nothing more than a thin layer of cotton, and was covered by small patches of thin plastic. Today, the equipment resembles bulletproof body armor – synthetic fibers with coatings as hard as steel. Being hit in the head with a bare elbow is dangerous enough – with a decent amount of force, the recipient is likely to have their lights flicker hard if not go out completely. Skating in modern equipment, the major striking points – the elbow, or shoulder – carry the force of a sledgehammer.

Preventing serious head injuries in the game Canadians cherish requires player education, respect for opponents, tight rules, and tough penalties for offenders. However, unless equipment is changed to soften impacts, dangerous injuries will continue to result even if only due to accidental contact. Elbow and shoulder pads can be softened to prevent injury to others while maintaining a proper level of protection to the wearer, and helmets require more R&D to ensure the negative results of impacts are reduced as much as possible.

As an active, scrawny, and accident prone son of a Phys. Ed. teacher with 3 younger brothers, I grew up in an environment where bumps, bruises, and scrapes were considered normal: pretty much anything short of bone protuding through skin was to be walked-off. On several occassion though I did have severe enough accidents involving head injury that required examination at the local emergency room, and resulted in diagnosis of a concussion. Even so, treatment consisted of little more than addressing any accompanying headache. Ongoing observation, and assessing effects of repeat occurances? Are you kidding me?

I’ve become slightly less scrawny and maintained an active lifestyle, but am still amazingly accident prone – I’m the only person known of to have been knocked out cold while playing Ultimate Frisbee, and it’s happened more than once. With at least a half dozen diagnosed concussions and several more questionable instances endured to date, by this point it takes little more than a stiff bump on the noggin to make me see stars and get woozy.

With the amount of information available now, I am painfully aware of the likelihood that I have already suffered at least mild negative effects long term due to head injury in that the result of incidents and length of recovery worsens with repetition, and I am certain to exercise more caution in future. Furthermore, should I ever have kids playing impact sports, I’ll be sure to have any head injury properly treated.

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One Response to Head Injuries, CTE, and the NHL

  1. matt mernagh says:

    they saved bob probert brain. there’s a punk band name in there somewhere! have a great day and thanks for adding the Mernagh site feed.

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