Danger on the sporting field
Concussions In Sport
In recent years, sport-related concussions (SRC) have been in the spotlight as society starts to find out about the possible long-term effects.
According to neurophysiologist Dr. Alan Pearce, an SRC can be defined as “a traumatic brain injury induced by biomechanical forces, caused either by a direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head.”
Many former NFL, AFL, and Rugby League players, in particular, have recently expressed their concerns about the effects of being repeatedly concussed throughout their playing careers.
In America, multiple deceased NFL athletes have been diagnosed with CTE.
Over 4,500 former NFL players sued the NFL for failing to warn them of the consequences concussions could have and many felt that the league “rushed” players back onto the field and then used the footage of their injuries in highlights to “glorify” their pain.
In 2013, the NFL reached a settlement with the players forking out $765 million US dollars to ex-players suffering from concussion-related injuries.
In early 2016, the NFL chose to acknowledge that there is a link between their sport and CTE, however, the extent of that link is still being researched.
This year, a study found that among deceased NFL players 99% of those tested were found to have been suffering from CTE, further supporting a possible link between NFL and CTE.
CTE is not only a problem for American footballers, however, with many Australian athletes recently raising their own concerns about the long-term effects they believe concussions are having on their lives.
Despite concerns being raised, CTE has never been diagnosed Australia.
According to Dr. Pearce, this is because we have not undertaken enough research on CTE in Australia.
Former Carlton footballer Greg Williams spoke with Channel 7’s Sunday Night program in 2013 and admitted that he’s unable to recall key moments in his life like his grand final appearances and his honeymoon.
Jude Bolton, Russell Morris, Nigel Plum, James McManus, and Dean Kemp are just a few of the many other Australian athletes who have also spoken about the damage concussions may have done to them.
Looking at AFL, concussions per club have decreased over time, possibly due to the recent rule changes.
Players who receive a head knock are required to be rested for 10 minutes before their club’s doctor performs a SCAT3 test and analyses footage of the knock.
During a segment on Four Corners, Mark Stevenson revealed the findings of a study he conducted between 2005 and 2007.
In his study, professor Mark Stevenson looked at 3000 amateur rugby players between the ages of 15 and 48.
As sport-related concussions not only affect professional athletes but also amateurs a major concern is that many parents and cocaches may not realise the damage that concussions are doing to their children or may not know the symptoms.
When in doubt, it is best to sit the player out and see a doctor as soon as possible.
Amongst some sporting clubs, there has been a culture in the past and possibly still currently that a player may look weak if they don’t continue to play on after receiving a knock.
However, doing so can potentially put a player’s health at greater risk according to Dr. Alan Pearce who spoke about the dangers of continuing to play during my interview with him.
“The evidence to date [shows] that there is an increased risk of further concussion, or alternatively increased risk of lower limb injury (i.e. Ankle or knee). The evidence also is showing that those who continue to play with a concussion or return to competition too soon (before full recovery) do run the risk of developing degenerative brain disease later in life. On the more serious side, there are rare cases in the UK, USA and Canada in children and adolescents of death, known as “second impact syndrome” - this is where the child/adolescent has sustained a concussion and then suffers a second impact causing brain swelling leading towards catastrophic outcomes,” said Dr. Pearce.
We can not stop sport-related concussions through implementing different rules or policies. The only true way to rule out sport-related concussions is to stop contact sport entirely.
However, Dr. Alan Pearce warns that we can not become a “nanny-state”.
“The risk of concussion versus the benefits of exercise need to be weighed up. It would be similar to say that children can’t play in the playground at school for fear of injury. We need to have a balance somewhere, and it would be in having strong policies and procedures in managing concussive injuries and players becoming responsible for their brain health,” he said.
So can sport-related concussion’s lead to CTE?
The short answer is possibly.
Dr. Pearce says “about 90 years of evidence [shows] that repeated head trauma leads to significant increased risk of neurodegeneration of brain tissue,” however, as studies are still being done there is currently no definitive answer.
Although Dr. Pearce says “the evidence is pointing towards the links between repeated head trauma and concussion injuries and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE.”
Dr. Pearce believes that Australia is lacking research on sport-related concussions and more needs to be done.
Although the AFL, NRL and National Health and Medical Research Council have invested money into Australian research we are far behind.
Dr. Pearce says between the three organisations we “probably [have] around 500 thousand to 800 thousand invested in research” but in comparison, “the USA is investing $100 million”.
It’s clear that we still have a long way to go with our research into sport-related concussions, however, the evidence is starting to add up as more awareness is being brought to the topic.