Dealing with the impact of concussions in sports

Concussions are front and centre in the world of sports and 19-year-old Winnipegger Jesse Miller, a member of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, knows exactly what it's like to suffer. A concussion has kept him out of the game for nearly a year.
Jesse Miller can tell you exactly how it feels to have a concussion. Alana Cole reports. 2:56

Jesse Miller can tell you exactly how it feels to have a concussion. 

"Throbbing headache for two, three days straight," said Miller. "I couldn't leave my room, and  when I did I would get a headache. I couldn't run up the stairs fast [because] if i did I would get a headache."

The 19-year-old landed a spot in the Western Hockey League last season but a concussion problem has kept the Winnipegger out of the game for nearly a year.

He suffered his first when he was 13 and his second at 16. His third happened last year while playing with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.

"There's no timeline [for recovery], which is the frustrating thing" said Miller. "There's almost sort of no hope because you're not sure if you will be back in a couple months, six or seven months, maybe a year or so, maybe never again."

At any age, concussions are front and centre in the world of sports.

Most concussions will only last about seven to 10 days but evidence is mounting that if a person sustains multiple concussions they can be prone to more, and perhaps suffer from long-term symptoms, said Glen Bergeron, an athletic therapist and part of the Heads Up Concussion Institute at the University of Winnipeg, which launched in June 2012.

"What we need to be able to say to people is, 'you need to stop and think before you hit someone from the back, before you punch someone in the head," he said.

"You need to stop and think [about] the potential consequence of doing that." 

Educating parents, athletes and coaches is a key way to prevent concussions, Bergeron said.

Hockey Manitoba said seminars as well as a smart phone app are helping coaches detect head injuries on the bench. Return-to-play protocols are in place to ensure players are fully recovered before heading back into the game. 

And starting this season, body checking has been banned at the peewee level in Manitoba.

Jesse Miller thinks the heightened awareness is a good thing for young players. 

"It's a very serious thing. We have to pay more attention," he said. 

"It's obviously a very big game and means a lot to everyone. But you've got to look at the big picture of living a happy, fulfilling life."

He hopes to be fully recovered, and back in the game by next season.

Getting your bell rung

Over the last few months, The Pan Am Clinic Foundation in Winnipeg has been conducting a survey to learn more about concussions in football.

Two seasons ago, high school football player Dillon Shoubye suffered a concussion but didn't realize what happened at the time, and kept playing.

Later, his symptoms became so bad that he was off school for weeks.​

"It honestly is the worst bodily feeling you could ever have. You're dazed almost all the time," Shoubye said.

In the last few years, concussions have become a sensitive subject in football as concerns grow over the possible long-term risks of head injuries.

Brian Marks, Shoubye's coach at St. John High school, said it wasn't always the case. Head hits were just brushed off as getting your bell rung, he said.

"The reality of the day was really, that's part of the game."

Now, Marks keeps a close eye on players after a hit, sitting them out if he thinks they have a concussion. And he makes certain that return-to-play protocols are followed closely.

The Pan Am data isn't ready to be released to the public yet but whatever it says, that fact the issue is being studied at all makes Shoubye happy.

He's pleased people are now taking the issue seriously and offers up simple advice to any players who take a hit like he did: "Know when you're down and not to get back up."


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