New Brunswick

'More needs to be done' about concussions in school sports, experts say

Medical experts weigh in on head trauma in sports, after nine high-school students were hospitalised after a football game.

Dr. Pierre Frémont says measurable steps can be taken to reduce head injury in youth football

Richard Louis, injury prevention co-ordinator for NB Trauma, said the football coach who shut down a high school game on Friday night after nine players suffered head injuries made the right move. (CBC)

Medical experts are praising the coach who shut down a high school football game after nine players suffered potential head injuries and were transported to hospital.

The Friday night game was between the École L'Odyssée Olympiens and Tantramar Titans.

Right after half time, the coaches and referees convened and cancelled the remainder of the game after several players were showing symptoms of having concussions, including vomiting and headaches, on the Olympiens' bench. 

"My initial reaction is that the coaches really took to heart the saying that many organizations try to push — when in doubt, please sit them out," Richard Louis, injury prevention co-ordinator for NB Trauma said Monday.

"Obviously there's a lot more that needs to be done," he said.

"Not just by raising awareness about the signs and symptoms to coaches, teachers and the parents, but raising awareness about the steps that would need to be taken to ensure a recovery phase that's tailored to the specific players."

Protecting the kids

Dr. Pierre Frémont, the chair of the Canadian Concussion Collaborative, researches head trauma to youth.

He agreed with Louis the coach made the right call.

Dr. Pierre Frémont, head of the Canadian Concussion Collaborative, said coaches should should make sure to consider the concussion risk in any sport. (Submitted by Pierre Frémont)

"In this case it was on its way to result in a huge number of injuries," Frémont said.

"There was a fantastic decision by the coach to say, 'my role is to protect the kids.'"

Frémont said "there's no black and white answer" as to when youth should be allowed to enter contact sports.

He said, however, he believes there are positive benefits to character and physical health in these sports.

His research focuses on the development of the head, neck and skull in children. He said between the ages of 12 and 16 the body grows to correct disparities in the proportions of a young person's body.

But since no one person's schedule of growth is the same, differences in the size of players can be a problem.

Measurable steps to prevention

Frémont said measurable steps can be taken to reduce head injury in youth football.

"There's so much that has been shown that can be done just by limiting, reducing the dramatically the [amount] of contact during training — you can potentially cut by half the number of concussions," he said.

A Friday night football game in Moncton was shut down after half time due to nine potential head injuries. (Submitted)
Cathy Simon, a physiotherapist who works with University of New Brunswick Saint John's varsity teams, said different strategies are emerging that might work.

"Limiting, like a baseball player can only throw so many pitches — well an athlete only taking so many hits," she said. 

"But how are you going to keep track of that? It's going to be very difficult."

Frémont also said calling football the most dangerous sport was "oversimplifying."

"Sometimes it's just a question of the number of kids who play a sport," he said.

"Like alpine skiing, there's a lot of concussion. In cheerleading in young girls. In basketball there's a lot of body contact, not to the head, but the force is transmitted to the head."

The long-term effect

Regardless of new helmet designs or practice techniques, there is always an underlying danger with contact, Simon said.

The younger you are getting these injuries can show effects in the long term.- Cathy Simon

"None of those things are going to stop those shearing forces the brain is going to take on a hit," the Saint John physiotherapist said. 

She said much has been revealed about the long-term effects of concussions in recent years.

"There's long-term effects that show your brain does not heal," she said. 

"And the younger you are getting these injuries can show effects in the long term. So whether it's cognitive issues, whether it's sleeping issues, headaches, depression, anxiety, all those symptoms can be caused by concussions earlier on in life."

Her advice for entering youth in contact sports was primarily to stay involved in learning about it.

"Coaches, parents, players all have to take part. You can't learn enough about concussions," she said.


Ben Silcox


Ben Silcox is a writer and photographer based in Saint John.

With files from Harry Forestell