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This information is provided only as a non-medical resource for people who may have recently suffered an injury that is causing symptoms consistent with those displayed by patients with a diagnosed concussion. It is not medical advice, and should not prevent you from seeking proper medical attention. Pure Hockey does not encourage self-diagnosis, self-treatment, or deferring proper medical examinations in any circumstance. If you believe you may have suffered an injury, please consult a doctor for a comprehensive medical evaluation.
Whether you're trying to spot the signs of a concussion in a fellow hockey player, or wondering how to tell whether you have suffered one yourself, there are several symptoms to look for following a big hit or blow to the head.
The Brain Injury Association says a concussion occurs from a “bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.”1 A concussion in hockey can come from a direct blow to the head by another player, or after taking a fall to the ice or against the boards. But you can suffer a concussion without hitting your head—an extremely hard check, a high-speed crash into the boards, and similar violent impacts can all cause concussions. When that happens, your brain can be jarred inside your skull, resulting in the injury.
There is a wide range of concussion warning signs to watch for. Some people will show many symptoms, while others might exhibit only one or two. According to the Mayo Clinic and the CDC,2, 3 symptoms might be obvious, or revealed only through testing by a doctor. But a concussion can't be diagnosed or confirmed through a simple blood test or scan. Generally, a doctor will ask a series of questions about the impact that caused the injury and how you feel. There will be tests for strength, balance, reflexes, memory, attentiveness, and sensation. There may be more in-depth tests as well, and the doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI to rule out more serious injuries.
While it would be normal to have a headache after having your head run into the boards, if you have several of these symptoms, there's a chance you might have suffered a concussion and should treat yourself as such. While some people who are later diagnosed with a concussion are knocked unconscious by the blow, being knocked out isn't required for a concussion, according to the Mayo Clinic.4 In fact, many players who take a big hit on the ice never lose consciousness. A hard hit, coupled with symptoms from the list above, however, is a strong sign your brain has suffered a big enough impact to cause a concussion, and should always be followed by a doctor's visit.
Hockey is a safe sport when players skate in control and follow the rules. Good protective gear and rules aimed at protecting players keep a sport built on speed and aggression safe and fun for everybody. Because of the safety measures, few players will suffer a concussion—particularly as young children or in non-checking leagues. But, a dirty player, a legal check into the boards, a careless skater, or even an accidental trip can leave a player with a blow to the head and the risk of a concussion.
Knowing how to treat a concussion in a hockey player who has suffered one is as important as recognizing the concussion risk from a big hit, but concussion prevention is always better.
References:1. https://www.biausa.org/brain-injury/about-brain-injury/concussion2. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/symptoms.html3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/symptoms-causes/syc-203555944. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/symptoms-causes/syc-20355594
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