Community Clubs Rugby

Ottawa Sport Council event offers tools to handle concussions at community sport level

8-time Paralympic medallist Karolina Wisniewska says the biggest impact of concussions she suffered during her alpine skiing career were related to mental health and the long-term emotional toll they took. Photo: Canadian Paralympic Committee

By Dan Plouffe

Members of the local sport community gathered on June 3 at Ottawa Tennis & Lawn Bowling Club to talk concussions, anxious to learn more about what was called “a silent epidemic” since the symptoms of brain trauma are not always easily recognized.

“A concussion is serious, and we need to start taking it seriously,” Dr. Andrée-Anne Ledoux from CHEO’s pediatric concussion research team underlined during her keynote presentation. “It has a huge, huge impact on the quality of life of children, and the parents and coaches as well.”

A major theme highlighted throughout the morning event was how to handle in a community sport setting, where volunteers serve as the backbone.

Reported concussions increased fourfold in recent years, a sign that awareness campaigns are becoming effective, Ledoux notes.

But since those who occupy critical roles like team trainer often don’t have significant prior knowledge or experience, it’s sometimes a “dear in the headlights” kind of reaction when a concussion situation occurs, said Ottawa resident Karolina Wisniewska, who participated in a later panel discussion with a coach, an athlete and a parent.

“It’s like, ‘Oh no, I think it may be a concussion, but I don’t know what to do,’” explained the former Paralympian, noting the person who suffered the injury shouldn’t be charged with how to treat it. “Your brain is shaky. You don’t know if it’s a concussion. You shouldn’t expect that person to know what to do next.”

Volunteers can often feel that they’re not qualified to decide whether somebody’s had a concussion, the speakers noted. But that’s not what’s important, Ledoux noted, it’s about identifying the possibility that a concussion has occurred, and then ensuring that person is removed from the sport and gets checked out by a doctor.

The sport concussions assessment tool kit #5 outlines red flags such as headache, weakness or tingling/burning in arms or legs, nausea, or increased agitation and combativeness.

“You need to understand the symptoms, and make sure the athletes are looked after properly,” underlined Gord Stringer, the story of his daughter Rowan’s death from second impact syndrome during a rugby game now well-known far beyond Ottawa.

Fellow panellist Lorraine Lafrenière, the Coaching Association of Canada’s CEO, believes every sport should have concussion education as part of its first national coaching certification program course (only six national sport organizations currently make it mandatory).

What’s also needed, Stringer added, is a culture shift away from glorifying players who persist through their injuries.

“Don’t make them heroes,” he implored, suggesting we instead admire athletes who have the courage to step out and take care of themselves.

“It’s a tough call for an athlete, or a parent, or a coach to make, but you need to have the strength to stand up and say, ‘You may have an important tournament this weekend, but you can’t go.’ It’s a call that has to be made.”

Many participants expressed the difficulty they’ve encountered about when an athlete should return to play after a concussion. Sports organizations were encouraged to require a doctor’s note, though that doesn’t guarantee all will be well, Ledoux indicated.

With symptoms so variable amongst different people and most return-to-play protocols based on educated opinions instead of in-depth scientific research, she said, “we still have no clue” when is best to reintroduce physical activities.

The accepted thinking has shifted in recent years from bedrest as treatment to resuming some regular daily activities, such as returning to school for part of the day, after 48 hours.

Keeping someone at home and doing no activities is like putting a kid in jail, Ledoux said, and while rest may be helpful initially physiologically, doctors have observed that prolonged rest increases symptoms such as depression and anxiety and makes it tougher to reintroduce activities.

Continued study is required, added Ledoux, though there are several excellent resources outlining current best practices available.

The event was filmed and can be viewed by accessing a dropbox folder via, which contains an e-learning module and Dr. Ledoux’s presentation, plus links to resources.

The event was the fourth Ottawa Sport Summit – and first held in the springtime – since the first one was organized by the Ottawa Sport Council in 2014.

It drew a capacity audience to the OTLBC’s upper-level lounge in Old Ottawa South, including many attendees who hadn’t attended previous Sport Summits.

“I’m thrilled,” said Sport Council executive director Marci Morris. “We’ve always wanted to find different ways to reach different people in the sports community, so that’s great to see some new faces in the crowd.”

uOttawa to host Rowan’s Legacy symposium

The University of Ottawa will bring together the medical community to discuss concussion research this fall at a symposium to be held during October’s brain awareness week.

The event is being spearheaded by Rowan’s Legacy team, a group that continues to work towards preventing concussions and protecting athletes, and also implementing the recommendations made during a coroner’s inquest into the former John McCrae Secondary School rugby captain’s death.

The June 7 announcement was made at Rowan’s Pitch on the 1-year anniversary of the renaming of the Barrhaven field.

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