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5th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium Begins with Dr. Carolyn Emery Addressing a “Significant Public Health Burden”:  The Prevention of Concussions in Youth Sports



April 28, 2021 – The 5th Annual Injury Prevention Symposium, a partnership between Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), began with a keynote address on the prevention of concussions in youth sports from world-renowned injury prevention researcher Carolyn Emery, PT PhD., a professor and Chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. Due to concerns from COVID-19, the symposium was held as a webinar again this year with hundreds of practitioners in attendance.


Dr. Emery framed concussions and the consequences of concussions in youth sports as “a significant public health burden that needs to be addressed.”


Her research indicates that 2.8 million concussions will be reported annually in North America—a one in five lifetime risk. Half of these concussions occur in individuals under 19. Among youth, more than 60% of these concussions are sport related, with particularly high rates of concussion in rugby, ice hockey and tackle football.


Dr. Emery’s presentation included a powerful testimonial from Ash Kolstad, a University of Calgary graduate student and researcher who suffered multiple concussions due to body checking as a youth hockey player.


“The symptoms that I suffered from were light sensitivity…dizziness that caused me to fall every three steps,” said Kolstad. “I have trouble concentrating. That's caused me to miss a full year of school. I suffer from a non-stop headache. I also would go days without sleeping from the headaches and I also suffer from depression. It was changing my life completely from being an honor student in school and being with friends all the time to being in a dark room, going to an appointment, and then going back to that dark room.”


Kolstad’s contributions to Dr. Emery’s research provide powerful reminders of the urgent need to preventing concussions, “so others don't have to suffer as he has,” she said.


Data from Dr. Emery’s “SHRed Concussions” research program informs best practices and policies across sports and in schools. The targets for prevention are rules changes, equipment and training strategies.


“We evaluate rules such as body checking policy, head contact rules in ice hockey, tackle rules in rugby, heading the ball in soccer, and no-contact practices in American football. Equipment strategies may be across mouth guard use and mouth guard type and the development and evaluation of helmet fit criteria in helmeted sports.”


Dr. Emery’s work with Hockey Canada over the past 15 years informed a policy change to disallow body checking in 11–12-year-old leagues nationally. The result was a 50% reduction in all injuries, and a 64% reduction in concussions. Those positive results led to USA Hockey implementing the same no-checking rule in 2011.


In addition to studying data, Dr. Emery’s team is using wearable technologies and video analysis to better understand head contact in collision sports. “Training strategies may include neuromuscular warm-up strategies, and the extension of these programs to include sensory motor components specifically targeting concussion prevention, as well as contact or tackle training strategies in collision sports. This highlights our community partnerships, across sports and in schools, to really help us to identify the priorities for prevention in those communities.”


Dr. Emery’s team is also evaluating novel injury prevention strategies, as well as management strategies to optimally inform best practices in concussion prevention, management and rehabilitation in youth sports.


She has set a bold goal. “Our plan is to SHRed concussions in youth sport 25% by 2025. We really hope that we're all on the same page with the fact that we really need to move upstream towards primary and secondary prevention to have the greatest public health impact in the reduction of concussions and their consequences in the sport. We are scaling up our validated injury surveillance, and implementation and evaluation of concussion prevention strategies across rules, equipment and training. We need to also focus on a better understanding of the consequences of concussion in youth sport.”

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