Macho attitude harmful

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

When helping an athlete return from post-concussion syndrome, the role of an athletic therapist evolves.

"It's definitely one of the toughest injuries to deal with," said Robert Milette, the head athletic therapist with the Manitoba Moose. "There's definitely some cheerleading involved, but it's a collaboration. There's doctors involved, neurologists involved. You've got to have trust in your athlete.

"You have to rely on your player to give you honest information, and you try to help him with that information as best you can. In my experience, players have been pretty honest with me and themselves because they know how serious it can be."

But here's the rub.

There is still a certain macho element among the hockey fraternity, where players sometimes feel indestructible and often do whatever they can to come back from injury ahead of schedule.

That can be a viewed as a valiant quality, but head injuries require more caution.

"Just think about the reality of it: you're having a hemorrhage in your brain," said Dr. Cal Botterill, the noted sports psychologist and professor at the University of Winnipeg. "Years ago, no one ever thought they should miss more than a week or two with anything. You had to deal with feelings of guilt and wondering if you might lose your spot. Now there's lots of precedent cases."

Those precedents allow players to take the necessary precautions rather than rush back prematurely and risk more serious injury.

The technological advancement of hockey equipment is part of the problem, since sometimes the lighter gear is used as a weapon -- whether it's intentional or accidental.

"You're trying to protect the player, but you have the best equipment you can," added Milette. "It's a high-speed game, there's boards involved, and players are hammering into each other. (Concussions) are going to happen."

Although concussions will undoubtedly remain a part of the game, great strides in dealing with them and helping athletes back to full health are being made.

"Back in the day, you'd get a concussion and guys would play in that same game even though you have headaches, you can't see straight and were making poor decisions," said Milette. "There's just a better understanding on how the injury has an effect on the body and the brain."

With the advancement of both medicine and technology, many athletic therapists and players are spending more time trying to find out what they can about concussions and what others have done to come back from them.

"In today's day and age, you can get anything from the Internet," said Milette, who himself spent plenty of time surfing the net in an effort to help Moose forward Jason King speed up the healing process during his lengthy battle with post-concussion syndrome.


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