Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sport

by John McKiggan

Brain Injury a Common Problem

The plight of Sidney Crosby put the issue of sport induced concussions in the spotlight last year.

There are more than 300,000 sport and recreation related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the United States every year.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information lists sports and recreational activities as the third leading cause of TBI hospital admissions. For example a recent study showed that 25% of Junior Hockey Players Suffer Brain Injuries.

The Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia estimates that there are 18,000 brain injury survivors living in Nova Scotia alone.

Awareness Still Lacking

While concussions are common, the real problems arise when athletes are sent back into play before they have fully recovered from the concussion. The American Academy of Neurology has raised a red flag about this problem: Doctors Call for New Rules for Athletes with Concussions.

Here in Canada, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recommends that any athlete with a suspected concussion be removed from play immediately. In fact, the CMA states that:

“Return to play should only be considered once the patient is asymptomatic, cognitive function has returned to normal and after receiving medical clearance upon completion of a graduated-exertion return to play protocol.”

Different Effects but Lasting Consequences

Brain injury experts have identified that suffering a second concussion within a short period of time can result in “post-concussion syndrome” or a more serious condition doctors have dubbed “Second-impact syndrome”.

Post Concussion Syndrome – What is it?

There is a common myth about concussions, that Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Isn’t Permanent.

But researchers have known for a long time that post-concussion syndrome can result in long-lasting headaches, concentration problems, fatigue, sleep issues, depression, memory impairment, and sensitivity to light and noise.

Second Impact Can Be Devastating

Second-impact syndrome is caused by the swelling of the brain after the second impact. If not treated appropriately, the consequences can be severe disabilities or even death.

According to one sports medicine expert:

“Because the brain is more vulnerable and susceptible to injury after an initial brain injury, it only takes a minimal force to cause irreversible damage. The brain’s ability to self-regulate the amount of blood volume to the brain is damaged resulting in increased cerebral blood volume which can result in brainstem herniation and death.”

Who is responsible for injury?

Anyone who plays sports realizes that there are certain risks associated with every sport. Every player assumes the reasonable risks that come with playing.

But what happens if you or your child suffers a brain injury because they were sent back into play too soon and suffer a second injury?

Toronto neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Tator says that the NHL and parents need to be aware of brain injury from concussion.

Some advances have been made and some sports organizations are taking pro-active steps to address the problem. For example, Hockey Nova Scotia has brought in a new “Concussion Policy” to try to prevent brain injuries.

Potential Liability

If an athlete is sent back in to play before they have fully recovered from a concussion there may be any number of parties who could be liable for injuries which arise. There may be claims for negligence, or specifically inadequate concussion management, against the coach, school administrator or health care provider who makes the decision to send the athlete back in to play.

There may be vicarious liability claims against school districts or the sport’s governing bodies.

In the United States there have been substantial settlements in cases involving high school athletes suffering from TBI.

There is an argument that governing bodies of sports should be liable if they do not take appropriate measures to protect the athletes. For example, lawsuits have been filed against the National Football League by over 3,000 professional football players have sued the over the head injuries they suffered while they were active in the league: NFL Brain Injury Lawsuit Raises Public Awareness of Dangers of Concussion.

Prevention Better Than Litigation

The bottom line is that no one wants their child to suffer a brain injury. Preventing these types of injuries in the first place is far better than fighting about who is responsible for the injury after an athlete suffers a tragic injury.

The first step towards prevention is education. If you have read this far, congratulations! Now you probably know more about concussions and traumatic brain injury than 90% of Canadians. If there is someone else you think might be interested in this article, feel free to pass it along to them.

If you are interested in learning more about concussions or Brain Injury claims, you may want to read my latest book: Brain Matter: The Survivor’s Guide to Brain Injury Claims.

I have been representing survivors of traumatic brain injury for 22 years. After spending years volunteering with the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia I realized there is a real lack of public awareness about traumatic brain injury claims.

So I decided to write a book to try to help educate the public and to provide information to brain injury survivors, and their families, about the legal issues surrounding traumatic brain injuries.

Brain Matter: The Survivor’s Guide to Brain Injury Claims is now for sale on I’m donating all the sale proceeds from to BIANS.

If you use an e-reader, they even have a version for Kindle.

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