ShareThis Page

'Game on' for Penguins' Orpik during concussion

| Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 11:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik plays against the Sharks on Dec. 5, 2013 at Consol Energy Center.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Brooks Orpik played video games to help heal his brain.

During his “recovery stage” from a concussion — 10 days after he was knocked unconscious by an attack from Boston's Shawn Thornton on Dec. 7 — Orpik was advised by Penguins doctors to “stay active,” and that included playing video games.

“It's definitely a lot different than you heard from stories of guys who were getting (concussion) treatment five years ago,” Orpik said.

Orpik played “Scramble With Friends,” an electronic word jumble, on his cell phone. He also used a wall-hanging designated to retrain his eyes.

None of this was expected. Orpik had heard stories of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby going months without sending a text message or watching television during the earliest stages of his concussion recovery in 2011.

Crosby's symptoms — neck soreness, headaches, light sensitivity — persisted longer than those for Orpik, who was afflicted with neck soreness, headaches and short-term memory loss.

Still, Crosby said he took a big step forward along his recovery in July 2011, when he began treatment with Ted Carrick, a Florida-based chiropractor who specializes in neurological disorders. Carrick emphasizes physical exercises designed to recalibrate the equilibrium of a patient diagnosed with a concussion.

“More of the active type of recovery … the more you can do that without being symptomatic, hopefully the better things get,” Crosby said, adding that the traditional rest-it-out approach to concussion recovery is not easy for a lot of athletes to accept.

“It's difficult. You're used to having goals, working towards something. Then all of a sudden … you're just waiting for your body to heal, and it's hard to be patient when you're going through that.”

Patience in the form of rest and quiet is still most often advised by physicians when a concussion patient is having symptoms, said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-chair of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill.

“In general, we do advise to stay away from video games, texting, TV, and basically anything that can eliminate straining the stimuli,” said Bailes, a neurosurgeon who has worked with the NFL Players Association and is an adviser to the NCAA and Pop Warner Football.

“But we've found there are some people it doesn't bother, and because concussion treatment is individualized there are a growing number of people who think reprogramming the brain is the right way to go, especially if it helps.

“Generally, I think if you can do it and it's helping, you probably should.”

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin did not do much other than “stay on the couch” for four days after his concussion diagnosis in February.

Malkin whiplashed his head and neck while crashing into the end-zone boards at Consol Energy Center. He did not remember the sequence, leading to the concussion diagnosis.

“The doctors said not to use TV, not to use cell phone, no books, (do) not even try (to) walk a lot,” Malkin said. “My concussion was not bad, but (for) four days I (did) nothing.”

Malkin, like Crosby and Orpik, said he started feeling better once resuming some activity — in his case, light exercise on a stationary bicycle. He missed four games because of his first NHL concussion last season.

Orpik missed eight because of his concussion this month.

Crosby's symptoms lingered for 15 months starting three years ago, and he played in only eight games over that stretch.

Some aspects of treatment — notably, Bailes said, the movement toward earlier brain stimulation during recovery — have changed between the experience of Crosby and Orpik.

Change in treatment of concussion has occurred particularly fast over the past decade as the injury — an epidemic at the youth level, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has received increased focus within the medical community, Bailes said. That includes in Western Pennsylvania, where concussion programs for UPMC and Allegheny Health Network have made the region a leader in concussion treatment and education.

The Penguins use UPMC physicians and clinical psychologists for concussion treatment.

One thing has not changed about concussions, Bailes said.

“It's always individual,” Bailes said. “What works for one patient does not work for another. That's something everybody needs to remember.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.