File photo. Courtesy Varsity Blues U of T.

According to a new survey, nearly 1 in 5 Canadians have suffered a concussion from sports.

Recently, the effects of concussions have been in the media due to the release of the new blockbuster Concussion. The film stars will smith as Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-American forensic pathologist faced with the challenge of proving that concussions from professional football may be more serious than was previously believed.

In the film, Omalu attempts to convince the NFL — and the many Americans who love professional football — that concussions from professional football may be linked to long-term depression and mental health issues.

Here in Toronto, research on the effects of concussions are ongoing and productive. Assistant Professor Michael Hutchison of the faculty of kinesiology and physical education is the director of the concussion program at U of T’s David l. Macintosh sport medicine clinic, and a prominent concussion researcher.

His most recent publication, “descriptive epidemiology of musculoskeletal injuries and concussions in the NFL, 2012-2014,” published in collaboration with Dr. David w. Lawrence and Dr. Paul Comper studies the effect of american football on concussions.

The paper, published in the Orthopeadic Journal of Sports Medicine, utilizes the weekly injury reports from the NFL to understand the epidemiology and frequency of concussions in the NFL. The paper found that head injuries or concussions accounted for nearly 7 per cent of all injuries by anatomical location in nfl players. It also determined that wide receivers suffered from the greatest rate of injury, while quarterbacks and kickers had the lowest. Equally startling is the fact that the incidence rate of concussions in the NFL in 2012-2014 has increased 1.61 times since 2002-2007. The paper also suggests that the incidence of concussions in american football is nearly three times as high as the incidence seen in professional rugby union.

Although the relatively high prevalence of concussions in football has been known for some time, it was the work of Bennet Omalu that inextricably linked the high prevalence of concussions in football to a disorder he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy, abbreviated as CTE. In linking the two, he discovered a link between the frequent brain trauma of football to depression and issues of mental health in a number of former professional football players. However, because CTE cannot be detected using traditional methods (such as cat scans), proving its existence was a challenge for Omalu, who initially faced ridicule for making the links that were later proven. The connection between concussions and repeated brain trauma and CTE is now nearly universally accepted. Furthermore, thanks to research at U of T, the relative prevalence of concussions in american football is being uncovered. In the future, we may be able to find safer ways to play the game that millions love without threatening the mental health of  its players.

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