Suffering a concussion can be devastating for young athletes. Not only does it mean time away from their favourite sport, but also missing school and exacting untold hardships for families during lengthy periods of recovery.
Youth account for more than half of the burden of more than three million concussions annually in North America, but it’s only in recent years that researchers have started to develop a deeper understanding of what causes them and how serious the health repercussions can be.
The University of Calgary and the Integrated Concussion Research Program has established itself among the top universities worldwide in terms of scientific contribution surrounding concussions. It is one reason why the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology is ranked the No. 1 sport science school in North America and No. 7 globally.
One researcher who’s been a pioneer in concussion research in youth is the University of Calgary’s Dr. Carolyn Emery, PT, PhD. As Chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre and a professor and researcher at the University of Calgary, Dr. Emery has emerged as a global leader in sport-related concussions.
Last fall, the National Football League funded Emery to lead a pan-Canadian program. It is part of the Play Smart, Play Safe initiative which the NFL hopes will lead to a reduction in concussions and their consequences in youth sport. The project received $12 million CDN in funding, part of an overall $47 million CDN investment in institutions across North America and is the only Canadian team.
The funding will assist the SHRed Concussions program in providing a national platform for concussion surveillance in high schools and will have a significant impact in reducing the risk of sport-related concussions in youth. Dr. Emery’s team includes more than 35 researchers representing nine Canadian universities and more than 30 community, government and industry partners. The research includes a variety of youth sports, including ice hockey, rugby, football, lacrosse, wrestling, ringette, soccer, basketball, volleyball and cheerleading.
This is the next step in an impressive academic career for Dr. Emery that has already had a positive impact in learning about and reducing the burden of concussions and sports injuries.
At the University of Calgary, Dr. Emery is the Chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre – one of 11 International Research Centres for the Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health supported by the International Olympic Committee, and holds a Chair in Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Alberta Children’ Hospital Foundation.
Over the past decade, Dr. Emery has led a team of researchers in providing evidence to inform policy change that disallowed body checking nationally in Pee Wee hockey (ages 11-12 years) in 2013. Following the body checking policy change in Pee Wee hockey, Dr. Emery led a five-year study as part of the Alberta Program in Youth Sport and Recreational Injury Prevention, which demonstrated a significant reduction in concussions of 64 per cent, and a 50 per cent reduction in overall injuries nationwide in 11 and 12 year old players. This research has further informed policy disallowing body checking in non-elite levels of Bantam (ages 13-14 years) and Midget (ages 15-17 years) in local and provincial associations where the impact of this policy change is also significant in older players.
Carolyn Emery is a professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Science at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. She is a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute; Hotchkiss Brain Institute; McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health; and O’Brien Institute for Public Health. Her research program is also supported by funds from the Canada Institutes of Health Research, Alberta Innovates, International Olympic Committee Research Centres, the Vi Riddell Pediatric Rehabilitation Research Program and community donations though the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and National Basketball Association General Electric partnership.