Health Watch: Hockey Concussions

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - With Hockey season in full swing, parents should be aware of the possibility of concussions.
Rhiannon Walker has more in this week's Health Watch.

Concussions are a critical health problem that impact athletes of all ages and while concussions recognition and treatment has increased in youth sports in recent years, a new study looks at how concussions suffered by youth hockey players might impact long-term brain health.
Doctor Richard Figler says the research shows that many athletes still had brain changes months after suffering a concussion.

Richard Figler; Physician at Cleveland Clinic>>"What they found with the MRI scans that they did, is that there were changes that persisted for three months after their initial injury."

The study examined a group of young hockey players ages eleven to fourteen, where body checking is first introduced, and using MRI scans, found that player who had been diagnosed with concussions had brain changes that were still present three months later, even after post-concussion analysis scores had returned to normal and they were cleared to return to the ice.
According to Doctor Figler, because these athletes were allowed to return to play prior to their follow up MRI scans. It is difficult to know for sure if there were more injuries sustained during the course of those three months.
Players who have suffered a concussion have to go through a series of tests that evaluate memory, reaction time, word processing, and balance, among other tests, before they can be cleared to play.
However, Doctor Figler notes that experts do not currently have the means to know with one hundred percent certainty if the brain is fully healed, even if an athlete passes these tests.
He says that because the adolescent brain is still growing, it is crucial to err on the side of caution and take as much time as needed for recovery and that it is important for athletes to be honest with coaches, doctors, and their parents about their symptoms.

Richard Figler; Physician at Cleveland Clinic>>"Go through the testing; make sure that you are back to normal and if there's anything that still feels off, don't return back to play, because this study shows us that the brain is still recovering three months out and it still may have some issues three months out."

Hopefully this study will open the door to more research that will give experts and athletes more answers on when it is safest to return to sports. For this week's Health Watch, I'm Rhiannon Walker.