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Concussion in Sport

The Silent Epidemic: Concussion in sport


Hey there, sports enthusiasts! Concussions are more common than you might have thought? The fact is they have alarmingly contributed to deaths and disabilities worldwide, they have even earned the nickname ‘silent epidemic’. Professionals are worried, especially in Australia, about the impact of concussions on athletes’ long-term health (Concussion in Sport Australia, 2019). It’s time to take a closer look at these head injuries and understand the potential long-term consequences they can have on athletes’ lives.


Picture this: You’re watching a game, and suddenly, your favorite player takes a hard hit to the head. They may seem fine at first, but what happens next? The immediate symptoms of a concussion might fade away, but the Queensland Brain Institute warns that even a single “head-knock” injury can lead to serious repercussions down the road.



It’s a matter of concern, especially in Australia, where the impact of concussions on athletes’ long-term health has become a hot topic. Popular Australian sports such as  AFL and NRL are notorious for concussion and even have a dark history of players continuing to play post concussion and even championed as brave and courageous despite the seriousness of the consequences. Take Geelong legend Gary Ablett Snr, who recently joined more than 60 AFL players seeking compensation for health issues he now faces related to on-field concussions. Ablett underwent a scan in 2022, revealing significant brain damage and now claims the AFL and former clubs “knew or ought to have known the potential for long-term consequences of concussion” (Gary Ablett Sr to sue AFL, Geelong and Hawthorn clubs over concussion claims, 2023).



However, this is not an isolated incident, as athletes worldwide are increasingly taking legal action against sports organizations, and the situation is no different in the United States. For instance, a group of 75 retired NFL veterans has filed a lawsuit against the league, accusing it of mishandling concussions and intentionally hiding evidence that links concussions to brain injuries and other serious long-term consequences (Belson & Schwartz, 2011).



Signs and symptoms of a concussion are not always as obvious as losing consciousness or feeling disoriented. Athletes might experience more subtle symptoms that can even show up later, like feeling tired all the time, being extra sensitive to light and noise, feeling nervous or irritable, or having bouts of dizziness (Australian Institute of Sport, 2023).



It’s important to remember that if an athlete is suspected to have a concussion, it’s a clinical diagnosis. They need to be removed from the game, get a medical assessment, and be closely monitored for any signs of deterioration. Many sports use a concussion assessment tool, like the SCAT5, and require athletes to take a break from playing for at least 24-48 hours. In fact, some sports, like AFL, have introduced guidelines that enforce a minimum 12-day recovery period post-concussion (Australian Institute of Sport, 2023).



Now, let’s talk about the consequences of repetitive concussions. It’s not something we can ignore. Multiple concussions can lead to long-term problems, both physically and mentally. There’s evidence that shows a link between repetitive head injuries and memory decline, cognitive issues, depression, suicidal ideation, and more serious conditions like parkinsonism and dementia (Gardner et al., 2014; Manley et al., 2017; Stern et al., 2011). 



The heartbreaking loss of St Kilda legend Danny Frawley sparked a conversation among experts who pointed out a possible connection between the head trauma he experienced during his AFL career. An autopsy conducted after his death confirmed the presence of early stage chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is believed to have played a role in his declining mental health and suicidal ideation. It’s a tragic reminder of the devastating impacts repetitive head trauma can take on an athlete.



So, how can we protect our athletes from these serious conditions? While it’s impossible to completely prevent concussions in sports, there are steps we can take to minimize the risk. Firstly, we need to ensure that the rules of the game are crafted and enforced to promote fair play, safety, and sportsmanship. Coaches and officials should discourage any unsafe actions that involve hitting an opponent in the head, using the head or helmet for contact, illegal checks or tackles, or intentionally causing harm to another player.



Secondly, it’s important to educate athletes about the long-term implications of concussions and the importance of reporting them. Athletes often worry about the impact on their careers, the team, and what their teammates and coaches will think. By providing them with knowledge and support, we can encourage them to follow the protocol without fear. Lastly, sports clubs should have comprehensive, evidence-based concussion protocols that prioritize the athlete’s physical and mental health. These protocols should have specific goals and measurable steps to ensure a safe return to play.



As much as we cheer for our teams and athletes, we must prioritize their brain health. Let’s not underestimate the risks of concussions and their impact on athletes’ lives. By raising awareness, implementing preventive measures, and supporting athletes throughout their recovery, we can make sports safer for everyone. It’s time to play smart and protect our athletes from the hidden dangers.





Australian Institute of Health and Wellness. (2022). Sports injury hospitalizations in Australia, 2019–20. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/919470ac-ad7c-4b1c-ae6d-1d9ef5d8f1ee/Sports-injury-hospitalizations-in-Australia-2019-20.pdf.aspx?inline=true#:~:text=There%20were%20over%202%2C300%20cases,about%20440%20occurred%20while%20cycling.


Australian Institute of Sport. (2023). Concussion and Brain Health. Retrieved from https://www.concussioninsport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/1090680/concussion-and-brain-health-position-statement-2023.pdf.


Gardner, A., Iverson, G. L., & McCrory, P. (2014). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in sport: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(2), 84-90. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2013-092646.


Gary Ablett Sr to sue AFL, Geelong and Hawthorn clubs over concussion claims. (2023, April 18). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2023/apr/18/gary-ablett-sr-to-sue-afl-geelong-and-hawthorn-clubs-over-concussion-claims.


Belson, K., & Schwartz, A. (2011). Concussion Treatment Cited in Suit Against N.F.L. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/21/sports/football/retired-players-sue-nfl-over-treatment-of-concussions.html.


Manley, G., Gardner, A. J., Schneider, K. J., Guskiewicz, K. M., Bailes, J., Cantu, R. C., Castellani, R. J., Turner, M., Jordan, B. D., Randolph, C., Dvořák, J., Hayden, K. A., Tator, C. H., McCrory, P., & Iverson, G. L. (2017). A systematic review of potential long-term effects of sport-related concussion. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(12), 969-977. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097791.


Queensland Brain Institute. (n.d.). Concussion in sport. Retrieved from https://qbi.uq.edu.au/concussion/concussion-sport.


Stern, R. A., Riley, D. O., Daneshvar, D. H., Nowinski, C. J., Cantu, R. C., & McKee, A. C. (2011). Long-term Consequences of Repetitive Brain Trauma: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. PM&R, 3(10, Supplement 2), S460-S467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmrj.2011.08.008.

“Traumatic brain injury – support for injured people and their carers.” (2014, October 8). Australian Journal for General Practitioners, 43, 758-763. Retrieved from https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2014/november/traumatic-brain-injury-support-for-injured-people.