Athletes and sports medicine professionals continue to learn more about how traumatic brain injury, including concussions, affect professional athletes.
In the world of rodeo sport, the need to continue researching and raising awareness about concussions came to the forefront following Ty Pozzobon’s death by suicide in January 2017.
The 25-year-old professional bull rider from Merritt, B.C., was remembered as one of the most accomplished rodeo competitors in the country, and as a loving, devoted friend to many.
Following his death, a family spokesperson said Pozzobon had been suffering from depression, anxiety and the effects of a number of concussions he had sustained in recent years. Pozzobon’s family donated his brain to researchers in the pursuit of gaining a better understanding of the connection between traumatic brain injuries, concussions and depression.
In October last year, researchers from the University of Washington announced that they had found evidence of chronic encephalopathy (CTE) in Ty Pozzobon’s brain.
It was the first confirmed case of a professional bull rider with CTE, a form of brain degeneration known to affect boxers, football players, and other athletes who sustain numerous concussions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, possible symptoms of CTE include difficulty thinking, depression, emotional instability and impulsive behaviour, and suicidal thoughts or behaviour. CTE is not a well-understood condition; researchers do not know the rate at which it affects the general population, they do not understand what causes CTE, there is little information on how CTE progresses, and there is no cure for CTE.
At the Cloverdale Rodeo, a team of athletic therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and sport medicine physicians is on hand before, during and after each rodeo event to provide care to the athletes, including concussion care.
“Similar to football, and similar to hockey,” he said. “Our approach to the athletes would be on par with that.”
As in other professional sport coverage, the medical team provides pre-event preparation, monitors athletes during the competition, and follows up with athletes after they exit the arena.
“The injuries vary from bruises and strains and sprains and pulled ligaments to on further to fractures and dislocations,” said Strother. “And, of course, concussion is at the forefront of all of our thinking.”
“We’ve always followed the protocols as they relate to concussion as its evolved,” he said.
The Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team follows concussion protocols established by an international board of sports medicine experts. The protocols are re-evaluated every few years at conferences in Zurich, Switzerland. As those protocols evolve with the latest research, so does the medicine team’s approach.
“Every couple years, a group of expert sports medicine physicians, several of which are Canadian, get together to review the state of understanding and the state of science as it relates to traumatic brain injury, and to develop a set of guidelines as to identification, management and return to activity,” explained Strother. “One of the tools that has arisen from those meetings is called the SCAT — the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool, and we’re on our fifth edition of that.”
“With rodeo, we’ve always applied the same guidelines that have been applied at other sports, as far as the treatment team goes,” said Strother.
“Concussion awareness has grown immensely throughout all of sport. And really its something that is being continuously evaluated and researched and, of course, with the Zurich conventions, discussed with experts,” said Strother.
“We’re trying to figure out [an] understanding of what causes a concussion, how we can best identify a concussed athlete and also better pathways to treatment to ensure that their brains have recovered,” he said.
“To the credit of the rodeo athlete, is that they are much more willing to present themselves,” said Strother. “There’s a more global awareness of the impact of concussion as we see in professional sport, including hockey and football.”
Today, the Ty Pozzobon Foundation works within Canada and the United States to support the health and well-being of rodeo competitors.
They work to advance education on the importance of concussion prevention, promote mental health awareness and provide access to counselling and support programs, and work to establish concussion protocols, including the diagnosis and management of concussions, in rodeo sport.