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Sports Injuries

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“The game against the Pittsburgh Penguins had barely begun. Skating across the middle of the ice, I was blindsided by a forearm to the head. This shot knocked me out immediately. I flew into the air, lost my helmet, and hit my forehead on the ice. The player who hit me was like a freight train — six foot six, 235 pounds. The only part of my body he hit was my head, but I suffered a second blow when I landed on it,” writes National Hockey League (NHL) Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine.

It was this hit, in particular, that brought on LaFontaine’s early retirement.

Playing sports comes with exhilaration — and risks.
Certainly playing a contact sport like hockey, especially on the professional level, comes with the risk of injury. Injuries are part of a professional athlete’s life. But injuries can also take place on a pee-wee football field, the ski slopes, or a local bike path. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1.6-3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year. And women and girls are just as likely as men and boys to sustain a brain injury playing sports.

What coaches, parents, and athletes need to know
Sports-related brain injuries can unfortunately happen in countless ways. A football player can sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a head-to-head collision. A cheerleader can fall on her head during a “basket toss.” A skier can smash into a tree. A skateboarder can lose control and fall against a curb.

In the last several years, sports and concussion have received a lot more attention and scrutiny — so much so, that rules in certain games are changing, and laws are being implemented to keep athletes of all ages and skills safe. But coaches, parents, and athletes need to learn about brain injury to prevent injury and make the best decisions if an injury does occur. Here is some basic must-know information:

  • An athlete can sustain a concussion or brain injury without necessarily losing consciousness.
  • A concussion can have serious and long-term health effects, and even a seemingly mild “ding” or bump on the head can be serious.
  • A concussion changes how the brain normally functions — in the short or long-term, depending on the severity of the injury and the time taken to recover.

What to do
There are two main ways to help athletes stay safe and healthy.

  • Prevention
    • First, do all you can to make sure brain injuries don’t happen:
    • Wear a helmet. There are specialized helmets for almost every sport. Make sure all helmets are properly fitted and maintained and are worn correctly and consistently.
    • Follow safety rules for each sport.
    • Never let children in or near water without adult supervision.
    • Be familiar with your equipment like your bike or ATV. Make sure it is in good working order and adheres to safety standards.
    • Be familiar with terrain before biking, horseback riding, waterskiing, swimming, or rock climbing.
  • Take action

Sports bring risks, but they also come with myriad benefits like fitness, good health, confidence, friendship, and team sportsmanship. They just need to be played safely.

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