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In the past few months, there has been a great deal of attention regarding brain injuries caused by contact sports. A group of 75 professional football players is suing the NFL for withholding information about traumatic brain injuries, and many states are implementing policies that force high school coaches to bench students who exhibit signs of concussions.
But the problem is even more localized than that. Rumors have been circulating about the condition of one of Pittsburgh’s beloved hockey stars. Last January, Sidney Crosby’s NHL season was cut short when he suffered from a brain injury after sustaining two head shots in one week. Even with some of the best medical treatment in the country, the road to recovery has been tough.
Like many people who are trying to retrain their brains after brain injuries, Crosby’s symptoms have been erratic and, at times, hard to decipher. An article on The Sports Network described the challenges of understanding when a person is fully recovered from a brain injury: “Unlike a muscle or bone, there is no physical evidence when you’re healed.”
One of the main challenges in brain injury treatment is teaching people to retrain their vestibular system – the system in the body that allows a person to trust his or her senses. One of Crosby’s doctors compared it to knowing where your hand is, even if your eyes are shut. A person who has vestibular problems might struggle with that task because the brain could be receiving faulty information.
Although there are exercises a person can do to strengthen his or her vestibular system, timing is a critical part of that process. Completing the exercises too quickly can actually worsen a person’s symptoms.
Crosby is working hard to get ready for the start of this season. He attended training camp with his teammates, though he was forced to wear a different colored helmet to let his teammates know he was not cleared for contact.
Crosby is fortunate because he has the entire NHL rooting for his return to the sport. For many people, however, returning to work can be one of the most challenging parts of the recovery process. Thankfully, specialists can create individualized plans to help people successfully transition back to their normal lives.
Source: TSN, “Crosby’s Slow Recovery Puts Focus On Head Injuries,” Associated Press, Oct. 4, 2011