Understanding Canucks’ winger Micheal Ferland’s latest concussion

The Vancouver Canucks announced Friday morning that winger Micheal Ferland has been placed in concussion protocol. Here’s why the injury is more concerning than you may think.

Micheal Ferland is a name that Vancouver Canucks fans will never forget. During the 2015 playoffs, the lone year that a team under current general manager Jim Benning managed to make the playoffs, Ferland terrorized the Canucks as a rookie.

He was trying to quickly make a name for himself by finishing every check possible, and he managed to do just that. Ferland forged himself a spot in the NHL and has stayed in the league ever since. In that 2014-15 season however, Ferland suffered his first concussion.

Ferland suffered his second concussion last season as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, but this one was much more concerning, because there was no distinct play where Ferland or the Hurricanes could look at on the game tape and say “that’s where it happened.”

It’s because of this that Ferland acknowledged he could have hidden his symptoms from the team and league, since there was nothing in the game film to suggest he was injured, but said he knew the risks of playing with a head injury.

Ferland is known for his hard-nosed physical style of play, but obviously won’t be able to play this style for a full 82 games, given his past concussion problems.

Ferland entered concussion protocol after leaving Wednesday night’s tilt with the Kings after a fight in the first period with Kyle Clifford.

In order to get more clarification and information on the causes and severity of reoccurring concussion symptoms in athletes, I spoke with Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt who is the Founder & Clinical Director at Advance Concussion Clinic.

Dr. Rosenblatt has over 20 years of experience in health psychology and rehabilitation neuropsychology and has spent the past 10 years specializing in concussions, with a singular focus on building out a best-practice evidence-based model to support healthy recovery from mild traumatic brain injury. One of the first things Dr. Rosenblatt told me was that there’s no “magic number” for concussions, and the main thing to be concerned about is a person’s ability to recover and their response to treatment, not the number of concussions they’ve had.

“There definitely are practitioners who will say that ‘it’s the third hit, and that’s it.’ There’s no real basis to those numbers or clinical or research evidence to support that number being an indicator of when an athlete should stop playing or reconsider, it just doesn’t have any bearing. The numbers alone don’t mean anything,” said Rosenblatt.

“The thing that matters the most to clinicians evaluating or managing concussions and return to sport for any level athlete or person, has to do with changes that might be present in the person’s response to injury, or the person’s recovery trajectory. If the same person gets three hits that affect them profoundly but they recover quickly from all three, there’s nothing to change in how you manage that athlete from the first to the third.”

Concussions can easily occur when there is impact on the body, not exclusively to the head. This would explain why Ferland suffered concussion symptoms after a game in which he threw five hits, back when he was a member of the Hurricanes.

“The greatest risk/threat to any individual who has suffered a concussion is the risk of a second concussion before the first has resolved. The hope would be that the staff, and the concussion protocol they are adhering to, provided that certainty (to a reasonable degree) prior to clearing this player to return to sport. But it is possible that the protocol does not meet that standard, i.e., reasonable certainty of recovery in all arenas in which concussion can present or manifest.”

“It is also possible that this athlete, as a result of a lifetime of concussions, is being injured more easily i.e., experiencing similar severity of symptoms in a new injury with less force required over time. That would be an indication of growing vulnerability and concern to a treating professional in clearing him going forward.”

It may not have seemed that Ferland took any significant blows to the head during Wednesday night’s fight with Kyle Clifford, but according to Dr. Rosenblatt, there were certainly enough punches thrown at Ferland that could cause a concussion, but says that it’s hard to determine whether Ferland’s vulnerability is being increased by an existing, unresolved concussion.

In short, when an athlete is cleared to play after suffering a concussion, and they suffer concussion-like symptoms shortly after returning, it’s usually a case of the brain injury not fully healing, which is more common than you may think. It’s important that Ferland has a number of specialists analyze the different areas of his brain, to ensure all areas are working correctly.

Dr. Rosenblatt compares it to a car — if one part of it isn’t working properly, the rest of it won’t work as it’s supposed to. The most important thing now for Ferland and the Canucks is to make sure that he is 100% healthy before attempting to make a return.

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With so many small, yet crucial parts of the brain and its functions, it’s important that nothing is missed when assessing Ferland’s latest injury. If he is given the time and treatment necessary to fully heal, then his risk of suffering another concussion will decrease, and that is what everybody should be focused on at this point in time.