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Headaches put Crosby back on sidelines

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

Sidney Crosby is the face of the National Hockey League, but once again, his head has become the issue.

Crosby, the Penguins' star center who missed 11 months because of a concussion, is out indefinitely because of recurring symptoms, the team announced on Monday.

Headaches resurfaced since he took an elbow to the head from the Boston Bruins David Krejci on Dec. 5, Crosby said at his locker room stall at Consol Energy Center.

"The next day, after the game, I didn't feel right," he said. However, a subsequent medical test showed no serious injury, he added.

The question of when he will return to the ice leaves fans, Crosby and the medical community speculating. He has played in eight games this season.

"Three or four months ago, I was concerned he might never come back to play because of how long it was taking him to recuperate," said Dr. Jack Wilberger, chairman of the department of neurosurgery for West Penn Allegheny Health System. "My concerns are further heightened now."

Several NHL stars including Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Pat LaFontaine and Mark Savard had their careers end prematurely because of repeated concussions.

"Personally," said Wilberger, "I wouldn't be surprised if he reconsiders what he's doing (with his life.)" Wilberger is not on Crosby's medical team.

Crosby downplayed the latest developments, saying his condition is more comparable to a minor setback he experienced in August than the full-blown symptoms he experienced after a hit during the Winter Classic game at Heinz Field on Jan. 1.

Crosby's medical team was not available for comment.

Dr. Michael Stuart, a professor of orthopedics at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the chief medical officer of USA Hockey, said this might not be a major setback.

"It is concerning that he is having symptoms again, but there is a very real possibility that Crosby and those around him are simply being extremely cautious, which is the proper course to take," Stuart said. "This does not mean his career is in jeopardy."

But the mere fact an athlete suffers a concussion makes him three to four times more likely to suffer another, Wilberger said.

Both Wilberger and Stuart say athletes experience recurring concussions for one of three possible reasons:

Sometimes you have a player who is reckless. "That's not the case with Sidney, I don't believe," Stuart said. Other reasons are genetics and bad luck.

Crosby excited the hockey world when he returned two weeks ago against the New York Islanders with a four-point night. But now he's getting credit for being a trendsetter off the ice.

"Athletes rarely come forward and admit something isn't right," said Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute outside of Chicago. "He should be applauded."

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