News Local

Cycling leading cause of youth concussions

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



Cycling is the leading recreational cause for young people to be hospitalized for concussions — taking up more than a third of all cases caused by sports or leisure activities in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, a B.C. Injury Research and Prevention report has found.

The reports, released in January this year, examined concussion-type injuries from 2001 to 2014, which included 1,076 hospitalizations for kids up to 19 years old — it’s believed that figure does not fully captured the number of concussions that happened during this time, since many cases aren’t reported.

In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 38.9% of all recreational concussion injuries were attributable to cycling — with playground incidents, at 12.1%, following at a distant second place.

For Fraser Health, 34.8% of recreational injuries were due to cycling. Hockey, at 11.4% of injuries, made up the second most common cause.

Vancouver Coastal medical health officer Dr. John Carsley said the most common bicycle-concussion injuries are from simply falling, either losing balance or hitting something in the roadway, such as a curb or pothole.

“You don’t have to pass out to have a concussion,” he said. “If you’re looking at the kinds of symptoms you might get, there are physical symptoms, obviously headache, feeling sick or vomiting, blurry vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise. Balance problems, feeling unusually tired.”

Parents, Carsley said, are encouraged to talk to their kids if any of these symptoms arise — and to get them checked out either at the hospital or clinic if they witness a fall.

Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt, clinical director with Advanced Concussion Clinic in Vancouver, said cycling-type injuries can relate to the speed — and subsequent force impact — to a cyclist’s head.

Helmets in the more serious cases won’t necessarily help, either.

“When you’re an unprotected cyclist, whether or not you’re wearing a helmet, if the force associated with these injuries is strong enough there’s little you can do,” she said.

Both Carsley and Rosenblatt attributed the speeds and jumps of many downhill mountain cyclists to be a large cause of cycling-related concussions — Carsley even recommended banning the sport.

The concern for concussions is more worrisome among youth in part due to the amount of time the youth would be interrupted from development, say school or sports, before returning healthy.

“In children, neck musculature is not fully developed. Children won’t necessary have the muscle strength to protect their neck, to keep it stable,” Rosenblatt said.

“We had presumed for a long time that children with brain injuries will recover in a similar fashion to children’s seeming resilience to other conditions, that they perhaps would recover faster.

“We’ve found many younger individuals actually recover longer. Their resilience may be lower than an adult’s.”

Left untreated, even what seemed to be mild cases of concussion could lead to brain swelling, she said, and multiple concussions over the course of a life can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can result in Alzheimers-like symptoms even in young people.