Concussions have become a blight on the sports world.
Once a player suffers a serious concussion while playing a game or in practice, the general perception to some is that the athlete will never shake the injury.
Once the head shot occurs, a player could be dogged by headaches and other symptoms. If they ever go away, the player may be more vulnerable to concussions in the future after taking another impactful hit.
Sidney Crosby is the standard bearer in the NHL. He is the league's best player, having won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and having scored the gold-medal winning goal in the 2010 Olympics.
However, will Crosby be healthy enough to give the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL another 10 to 12 years of stellar play, or will the concussion-related issues he suffered return to dog him and ruin his career?
Crosby was first injured in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals when he was hit by David Steckel. Crosby tried to tough it out and he was vulnerable the following game when he was hit by Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Crosby did not play the rest of the season and did not return until the 2011-12 season. His return was a halting one, because he got hurt again shortly after returning.
Crosby played 41 regular-season games in 2010-11 and he played 22 more in 2011-12. He was in relatively good shape and competed against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.
Could Crosby remain healthy once the lockout comes to an end and the skating and hitting begins in earnest? Or is Crosby destined to face concussion issues the rest of his career.
Players who fully recover from concussions are not necessarily more vulnerable to head shots than any other player.
Concussion expert Dr. Mark Lovell, the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, told Sean Conboy of Pittsburgh Magazine that athletes who recover can return to the same level of activity they had in the past.
Concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins told Conboy that concussions are not career-ending injuries when treated properly.
“If you manage this correctly, the potassium will go back into the cell, the calcium will go back out of the cell and that membrane will go back to normal,” Collins said to Pittsburgh Magazine. “The great majority of the time, you can hit the reset button on these athletes, if you make sure, again, that the cows are back in the barn. You have to do the right evaluation to make sure that’s happened."
Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is a prime example of a player who can return to playing at an exceptional level after a concussion. Bergeron was a rising young star when he suffered a concussion early in the 2007-08 season after a brutal collision in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was unable to return the rest of the season and when he came back the following year, he scored eight goals and had 31 assists in 64 games.
While he appeared to lose some of his effectiveness, Bergeron's performance in 2008-09 provided a baseline. He came back much stronger in 2009-10 with 19 goals and 33 assists. He was one of the Bruins' key performers' in their 2011 Stanley Cup run, and he continued to surge last year.
Bergeron scored 22 goals and had 42 assists and was a league-best plus-36 on the season.
While Bergeron was able to mount a comeback, his teammate Marc Savard has been unable to overcome the concussion problems he suffered in 2010 when he took a head shot from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. Neither has Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger.
Crosby has been treated by two of the leading physicians to treat concussion issues. He has followed a conservative protocol. He was healthy at the end of the 2011-12 season.
When the season finally begins, Crosby should be able to play at a high level and he should not be any more vulnerable to concussions than other players.
However, the lingering symptoms faced by players like Savard and Pronger indicate there are no guarantees.