Sport-related brain injuries continue to impact thousands of Canadians

By Angela Baker

From the playground to the pro ranks, the topic of brain injuries related to sports is a concerning trend that will likely continue. It is an area that requires more attention and data to identify its prevalence in Canada.

From concerned parents of a child who has taken a nasty fall off a bike, to the fans of an NHL team whose star player suffers a concussion, the chance of a brain injury is ever-present.

Updated data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that the number of emergency department (ED) visits for sport-related brain injuries in Ontario and Alberta has gone up 28% in the last 5 years. In 2016-2017 alone, there were more than 17,000 ED visits for sport-related brain injuries.

The vast majority of those visits (94%) resulted in a concussion diagnosis.


Canada’s sport among worst offender

Hockey is the sport most associated with brain injuries, in Canada – which is perhaps unsurprising considering the sport’s popularity and prominence in Canadian culture. The physical component to the game, coupled with the large volumes of Canadians who play the game every winter, resulted in more than 3,000 ED visits in Alberta and Ontario for brain injuries last year.

Hockey Canada, the governing body for hockey in Canada from the grassroots to the Olympic Games, has created safety tips and The Hockey Canada Concussion app to help you and your family enjoy the game and stay safe.

Kids at risk

Sport-related brain injuries are also commonly associated with other sports like cycling, football, rugby, skiing and snowboarding.

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We have seen increases in sport-related brain injury emergency department visits among the youngest patients, growing 50% over the past 5 years.

This increase does not necessarily mean they are injured more often. One other possible explanation could be that injury awareness has increased and parents are taking their injured kids to the emergency department as a precaution.

Brain injuries were part of the more than 2 million reported emergency department visits due to injury in Canada last year.

No matter how much of an emphasis we put on safety, accidents do happen. There is still more work to be done to make sure sport in Canada is as safe as possible.

Angela Baker is a Communications Team Lead at the Canadian Institute for Health Information.