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Brain Teaser

Erin Riley

 Nearly a year after the Ontario Legislature passed Rowan’s Law (Bill 193) addressing concussion safety for children and youth, there remain many misconceptions surrounding these injuries. While there are many web-based resources families can turn to at home to begin learning about kids’ concussions, the internet in particular can be a wild purveyor of myths and facts on the topic, so it can be challenging to identify accurate information.

Substantial efforts have been taken in recent years by the Greater Toronto Hockey League to source accurate and key information to provide its membership. In partnership with experts from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, here are a few common myths about concussions.

MYTH: “Only hits to the head or big hits to the body result in concussions.”

Forceful impact to the head is, of course, dangerous because of the directness and proximity to a person’s brain. An impact to the head may result in a concussion, but an impact to the body may also result in a concussion. Furthermore, the force with which the impact is delivered may look a certain way, but we cannot predict with confidence what hits to the head or body will result in a concussion based on how they appear.

MYTH: “It’s not a serious concussion unless someone passes out.”

When an individual passes out or loses consciousness it is a sign that should be taken seriously, as it may be a result of any one of a number of different underlying medical problems. However, passing out is not the only sign of a serious concussion; in other words, any of the signs and symptoms of concussions can be part of an individual’s experience with a difficult recovery or persistent symptoms. All concussions should be taken seriously. Any one sign or symptom of a concussion after an impact to the head or body is enough to suspect a concussion and should be treated seriously.

MYTH: “Some equipment prevents concussions.”

Helmets, mouth guards, neck bracing devices – while these products may be marketed to “prevent” concussions, there is no support for these health claims by the scientific research community. When properly fitted, safety equipment for sports and leisure are recommended to reduce the risk of traumatic injuries to the body, and reduce forces that may act on the brain the way a concussion does.

MYTH: “Blood tests can diagnose concussions.”

Last year the U.S. Federal Drug Administration approved a blood test reported to have the ability to evaluate mild traumatic brain injury, or concussions. Unfortunately, headlines of various media outlets focused on suggesting the newly developed test would be put in practice as the gold-standard for diagnosing concussions. In truth, the blood test does not diagnose or rule out a concussion, rather, it can help predict if a brain bleed will be visible through medical imaging, and in this way may help a physician decide if medical imaging is of value. However, concussions do not show up through CT scans or other medical imaging procedures. Finally, the blood test was only approved for use in adults.

MYTH: “You must be symptom-free before starting return to school and modified physical activity.”

On the contrary, the duration of rest recommended after a concussion has taken on a new perspective. Following an initial period of rest, kids can make incremental and progressive gains back into school and sports, provided these cognitive and physical activities do not bring on or worsen one’s symptoms. The key message here is to encourage kids to talk with healthcare providers about how they feel during activity – often they share the same goal of helping kids get back to doing what they love, want, and need to do.

Want to learn more about kids’ concussions? Check-out resources available on Holland Bloorview’s website: www.hollandbloorview.ca/concussion.

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