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Thursday, april 28, 2011 ❘ The gazeTTe ❘

Concussions

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brain: Injury will never be eliminated from contact sports from page 1 —

Former Bronco Ed McCaffrey had countless concussions during his playing days, including two in the final three games of his career in 2003.

TopICaL fUNDraISer New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz, whose stories about concussions have helped lead to policy and rule changes in the NFL and youth sports, will speak from 6-9 tonight at the World Arena. Tickets for $100 are available at the door with proceeds going to Rocky Mountain Health Care Services’ programs for people with brain injuries.

brewers’ almonte is first player put on seven-day dl The Associated Press —

Brewers utility man Erick Almonte went home to sleep under supervision after becoming the first major leaguer placed on the new seven-day disabled list for concussions. “We had somebody spend the night with him last night and we didn’t get a call, which is good,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday. “Any time you have a concussion, the doctors now really don’t like you to spend the night (alone).” Almonte was hit in the forehead by a ball thrown by third baseman Craig Counsell during batting practice Tuesday. Almonte spent several minutes on the field before getting up and walking to the clubhouse, becoming dizzy and nauseous. Almonte doesn’t remember the moments just after being struck. “I know I was taking the ball from Counsell and the next thing I remember, I was on the ground,” Almonte said Tuesday. “I just took my eyes off the ball for a couple of seconds and boom, it hit me right in the forehead.” He was diagnosed with a Grade 1 concussion, the most common type. Symptoms generally clear in five to seven days, part of the reason the new DL was established. MLB and the players’ union announced a new set of protocols just before the start of the season to deal with the MILWAUKEE •

Erick Almonte: Was hit in the head by a throw from teammate.

head injuries, including the creation of the seven-day DL to give team doctors and injured players more flexibility to address concussions. Concussions have been a priority across professional sports leagues with the NFL imposing fines and threatening suspensions for hits that were deemed illegal or dangerous last season, while the NHL has banned blindside hits that target an opponent’s head. The NBA will look into establishing protocols this offseason. MLB requires baseline testing for all players and umpires, and imposed new steps for evaluating players who may have suffered concussions and for having them return to action. The seven-day disabled list is besides the 15- and 60-day DLs that already exist. Any player needing more than 14 days to recover is automatically transferred to the 15day disabled list. “(It’s) really smart for the player and the team to have this seven-day option,” Roenicke said. “It’s just so much safer to put a guy on for seven days. Maybe he’ll only need four or five. But to give him an extra two, three days to be safe is really smart.”

At Air Force, Steve Shaffer was a promising tight end but a pair of concussions in 2008, and the prolonged symptoms after those injuries, forced him to retire. Basketball player S a m m y S c h a f e r hasn’t been able to shake postconcussion symptoms from a blow to the head he took in November 2009. Schafer took this school year off because of his constant headache. The NFL has a history of concussions. Former Broncos receivers Brandon Stokley and Ed McCaffrey each admitted to suffering multiple concussions. Stokley said in 2008 he had about eight or 10 in his NFL career, and suffered at least one more since then, with Seattle last season. McCaffrey had countless concussions, including two in the final three games of his career in 2003. McCaffrey publicly supported Senate Bill 40, named after Snakenberg. Concussions aren’t just a football issue. Nunley said females are more susceptible to concussions, and the NCAA said that concussions accounted for 11 percent of injuries in women’s soccer in 2009. Major League Baseball (which started a seven-day concussion disabled list this season), the NHL (Sidney Crosby missed most of the season and all of the playoffs) and NBA also have had high-profile concussion cases. “(Athletes) and their parents are seeing so much of it in the media, they’re taking a closer look and trying to learn about it more for their safety and wellbeing,” Air Force head football trainer Tony Peck said. Pro leagues have toughened their protocols on concussion. In the NCAA, and in Colorado youth sports, if a player is diagnosed with a concussion he is done for the day. Buzzwords like “seeing stars” and “getting dinged” are being recognized as concussions, and those mild concussions can have long-ranging effects. Mild concussions are no longer viewed as a different injury than a Grade 3 concussion, in which a player loses consciousness. “I get a kid and a parent to the office: ‘He didn’t have a concus-

Head games: concussion crisis in football As athletes get bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, concussions - caused by violent collisions - are becoming a troubling part of all sports, especially football. Concussions

Common Can occur when the brain moves inside symptoms the skull from an impact or whiplash

Initial impact The force from the impact causes the brain to strike the inner surface of the skull and can rebound against the opposite side

THE GAZETTE

SOURCE: National Health Institute

sion, he just walked off dizzy and things lasted for a couple hours and they were gone,’” Nunley said. “Well, that’s a concussion.” Even though research on concussions has increased dramatically, there are still questions about what causes the lingering effects. Concussions happen from sudden force to the brain, shaking or spinning. Usually when the brain is traumatized, blood flow is restricted. The brain needs glucose to function, Nunley said, and that is impaired by the lack of blood flow. Although Nunley said hits to the side of the head are more likely to result in concussions, Peck said in Air Force’s studies on its football head injuries, there has been almost no correlation for what kind of hits cause the injuries, or whether it’s an offensive or defensive player. Peck said Air Force had 16 reported football head injures last year, and since 1998 the Falcons have averaged about 12 per year. Nunley said researchers can’t say for sure why some concussion symptoms last for months, while for other people the symptoms clear up in days. Nunley said some might be more at risk for concussions or severe symptoms based on genetics, and he thinks eventually studies could lead to aspiring athletes being warned they are at risk. “I do think over time we’ll come up with genetics and say, ‘You should go into something else other than football or wrestling, because it’s not going to work out,’” Nunley said. Recent studies have suggested that athletes under 21 are more susceptible to concussions and warrant more caution than older players, Colorado College hockey

Confusion Slurred speech Drowsiness Bleeding nose Bleeding ears Seizures Nausea

trainer Jason Bushie said. The baseline test each CC freshman takes becomes more important since concussions suffered during high school and junior hockey may not be recorded. Some kids may not realize they suffer one if it is minor. Nunley said baseline concussion tests are common in NCAA sports, and also used in the NFL and high schools. Trainers rely on the athlete to tell them about previous injuries. Education about potential life-altering consequences has made players more willing to fess up than in years past. But it is far from perfect to rely on a teenager, especially if they are concerned it may hurt their chances at a scholarship. “Underreporting still remains an issue,” Bushie said. “You collect what you can about their history as soon as the recruiting process allows; certainly once they’ve committed.” Strides have been made to educate players and coaches, in research and in changes like helmets that can help prevent concussions, and the issue of treating concussions in sports is being handled more responsibly than it was just a few years ago. But concussions can’t be eliminated in contact sports. “Absolutely not. It’s physics,” Nunley said. “Even if you have the best helmet, so it can take that hit and absorb the force, your brain still shakes inside your skull.” “It’s never going to change,” said former Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert, who said he had three concussions in his career. “That’s just going to happen. Players are aggressive, and it’s a collision sport.”

players feel helpless when they aren’t on ice Mental stimulation must be avoided between tests by JOE PAISLEy joseph.paisley@gazette.com —

there’s no rehab for your brain.”

Mike testwuide — former colorado college forward, above, who suffered a concussion during the 2009-10 season

The experience of suffering a concussion varies from hockey player to player and by the severity of the blow. Some are knocked unconscious, usually resulting in a longer recovery time, while others chalk up a simple concussion to one of many hard hits sustained over the course of a college game. Many play on after “getting their bell rung,” especially with no symptoms apparent. A concussion occurs after a blow causes the brain to shift inside the skull. That impact can immediately result in a wide range from light to severe symptoms including confusion, amnesia, headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of vision and loss of balance. Some like North Dakota senior Chay Genoway can lose most of a season and end their Hobey Baker Award campaign almost before it started. Former Colorado College defenseman Nate Prosser knows what it’s like to lose a number of games. He suffered a severe concussion when he was knocked unconscious against New Hampshire his freshman season. “I really didn’t know what was going on until I got to

the hospital,” Prosser said. “I was mostly just confused.” Prosser ended up missing 10 games that season as the symptoms persisted. The hardest part wasn’t the symptoms. It was being unable to do anything on the ice with his team. Part of the treatment is two days complete physical rest and no mental stimulation — including TV and video games — before taking a cognitive skills test and comparing it to the baseline compiled before the start of their freshman season. You fail that and it is another couple of days of rest before another test. That’s even more difficult when you’re a leader, like 2009-10 captain Mike Testwuide was when he sustained a concussion moments into a game at Wisconsin. His symptoms, though mild, did not go away quickly and he missed the next three games. “I had mild headaches and felt lethargic for a week,” he said. “I was still able to talk to guys but no, it’s difficult to not be on the ice.” It isn’t like a shoulder injury where you can still skate in a noncontact practice jersey. “I didn’t feel like I was part of a team,” Prosser said. That feeling is mitigated by the knowledge that not playing it safe could result in long-term damage and a life-altering head injury. “There’s no rehab for your brain,” Testwuide said.


Concussions in sports (2)