Concussions: Figure Skating's Hidden Toll

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

Figure skating is both an art form and a difficult sport; the sequins hide a lot of bruises. But the most dangerous injury of all rarely leaves a visible mark. Concussions and their long-term consequences have become hot topics in the sports world in recent years. The National Football League has come under particularly harsh criticism from medical experts and former players, and the number of American children who participate in youth football is in decline as parents become more concerned about the risk of traumatic brain injury. Football is not the only sport in which head trauma is relatively common. Soccer players routinely use their heads to direct the ball, and head-to-head collisions are not unusual. Other sports that tend to involve physical contact include lacrosse, hockey and rugby. However, the risk of concussion and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in figure skating -- a sport in which millions of children participate -- is not often discussed, and the incidence of TBIs in skating is not currently tracked. That may be on the verge of changing. In November 2014, two skaters competing at the Cup of China collided during the warm-up session just prior to the free skate. Han Yan, 18, of China, and reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, 19, of Japan, crashed into each other at high speed. Both sustained head injuries and were examined by medical professionals before being allowed to compete. Hanyu, however, was clearly not in good condition; he fell five times in his program, risking another head injury with each fall. The possibility of falling is part of skating's appeal to fans, but in a sport where only the youngest, most inexperienced skaters wear helmets and where competitive skaters can expect to fall dozens of times per day during practice, skaters, fans, coaches and parents are starting to reassess the risk of traumatic brain injury. And falls may not be the only culprit -- sports medicine expert Dr. David Wang says certain spinning positions can cause concussion-like symptoms. U.S. Figure Skating, the sport's governing body in the United States, in 2013 released an educational document that highlights the symptoms and dangers of concussions, particularly repeat injuries. The document directs coaches to remove skaters from the ice if a concussion is suspected, notify the parents of minor skaters, and insist on physical and cognitive rest, which is the only effective treatment for a concussion. In practice, however, skaters learn very early that the only acceptable response to a fall is to get back up and try the element again immediately or continue the program. While physical and mental resilience are key to success in any sport, those habits can work against a skater if a concussion occurs. It's up to coaches and parents to make sure skaters receive proper treatment, and Olympic champions should not make that task more difficult by setting the wrong example. It has been widely rumored that Japan's skating federation pressured Hanyu to compete despite his injury. If this is true, the federation has a lot to answer for -- and the figure skating community has a lot to discuss. Resources: "Yuzuru Hanyu finishes second at Cup of China after bloody warm-up collision," by Nick Zaccardi, Nov. 7, 2014; http://olympictalk.nbcsports.com/2014/11/08/yuzuru-hanyu-collision-cup-of-china-head-bandaged-figure-skating/ "Concussion Education Information," released by U.S. Figure Skating, Sept. 21, 2013; http://www.usfsa.org/content/ConcussionEducationInformation9-21-13-BODreviewedandfinal_logo.pdf "Can Spinning Cause Concussions in Skaters?" by Sabina Kuriakose, Feb. 12, 2014; http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/troubleshooters/Possible-Link-Between-Figure-Skating-Spins-and-Concussions-245096171.html "Figure skating's high-flying beauty blurs a hazardous side effect," by JoNel Aleccia, Feb. 14, 2014; http://www.today.com/health/figure-skatings-high-flying-beauty-blurs-hazardous-side-effect-2D12112777


Elizabeth D

Denver, Colorado, United States •

Elizabeth DeHoff has worked as a professional writer and editor since 2002. She holds a B.A. from the University of Colorado and an MBA from EDHEC Business School. Although she can write about almost any topic, her areas of expertise include business, finance, investment, entrepreneurship, management, marketing, social media, cross-cultural teamwork, economics, travel, fitness, pop culture, and food and wine.

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