Two days after his team won the National Lacrosse League championship, Jay Jalbert was laying in a hospital bed recovering from his seventh concussion. Jay was forced to retire from professional Lacrosse. Four weeks after taking a routine shot off his face mask, Denver Outlaws goalie Trevor Tierney was still experiencing symptoms of his seventh concussion. Concussions are prevalent in contact sports from the youth to the professional level. The bad news for Lacrosse is a recent report in the Journal of Athletic Training concluded that concussions were the third most common injury in men’s and women’s lacrosse.
The good news is that, unlike the NFL, US Lacrosse, through its Sports Science and Safety Committee is taking seriously the severe health hazards of concussions. US Lacrosse has taken a significant step toward addressing the issue by partnering with ImPACT, a concussion management firm. Two major issues being addressed are players returning too early from concussion and players who have suffered multiple concussions. Returning to play too early can lead to prolonged post-concussion symptoms or more severe brain damage if another head injury occurs before the first concussion heals completely. The league is also studying the cumulative damage of multiple concussions, something the NFL should have done long ago. The league is utilizing the ImPACT test to help determine if it is safe for a player to return from concussion. Players take a baseline neuropsychological test of cognitive function at the start of the season, and then retake the test if a concussion occurs. Medical professionals have quantitative data to assist in determining if the brain is healed.
Parents and other advocates should also push for better helmets and better/mandatory mouth guards. Water and air cushioned football helmets were available in the 1970’s. There is no excuse for the flimsy helmets worn by hockey players, which do very little to protect the brain. Lacrosse helmets could also offer more protection.