Head injuries happen in all sports and we're finally talking about it

Head injuries across all sports are getting more attention with new initiatives to help educate the public and change the culture around reporting injuries.

Former athlete who suffered brain injury says ‘there’s a lot more awareness’ around head injuries in sport

The Public Health Agency of Canada said 97 per cent of respondents to a recent online survey said concussions are a significant health problem. (Shutterstock)

Collision sports like hockey and football tend to receive most of the attention around head injuries. But head injuries can happen in any sport.

A 2015 survey of reported head injuries in university sports found the top five sports were men's rugby, women's rugby, women's basketball, men's hockey and women's soccer.

Glen Bergeron is the director of the Heads Up Concussion Institute at the University of Winnipeg. (Sharon Leonard/University of Winnipeg)

Football was ranked number ten in the survey, but according to Glen Bergeron, director of the Heads Up Concussion Institute at the University of Winnipeg, football is notorious for underreporting head injuries.

The Heads Up Concussion Institute has launched a nationwide data injury system with 12 universities enrolled in the program for its first year.

Bergeron says everyone plays a role in preventing head injuries, including parents, coaches, officials, teammates and even sports broadcasters. He says how commentators react and respond in high profile games matters a lot.

"So that we don't celebrate the highlight hits or we don't make the person out as a hero when ultimately there could be some very serious consequences to some of those highlight hits," said Bergeron. "So it all goes back to just educating people and changing a culture. And that's not easy and it doesn't happen overnight."

Educating people and changing a culture

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently attempted to gauge how well informed we are about concussions through an online survey.

While 97 per cent of respondents said it's a significant health problem, only slightly more than half knew where to get information on how to prevent one.

Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser announced last month she would do her part to help further the science by donating her brain to research. Wickenheiser says she was never formally diagnosed with a concussion but is sure she's had one.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation is hoping to change the culture with #TeamUpSpeakUp. It's a social media initiative that encourages teammates on any team, in any sport, to speak up for each other if there's a suspected head injury.

'There's a lot more awareness'

The National Symposium on Brain Injuries in Equine Sport is a first in Canada, designed to equip participants with resources they can take back to their respective horse-riding communities and put into daily use.

It's scheduled for October 11 at Spruce Meadows in Calgary and is a result of decades of injuries in the sport.

Claire Smith competed in equestrian for Canada at the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta. She says, at the time, head injuries weren't even on her radar.

Claire Smith suffered a traumatic brain injury an international equestrian competition in 1997. (Arranel Studios)

"I don't remember head injury being at all thought about. It was not something that you really worried about. If you fell off and you hit your head and you felt fine, you got back on again."

But in 1997, she took a serious fall off her horse at the European Championships in England. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, spent six months in the hospital and had to learn how to eat and walk again.

Undeterred and resilient, Smith went on to earn a PhD and write a book about her journey called Falling into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education.

Though change takes time, Smith says we're headed in the right direction. She's seen a lot of progress since competing more than 20 years ago.

"There's a lot more awareness of what could happen and that's good."

About the Author

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.


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