Concussion is an injury to the brain following an injury to the head, resulting in a disturbance of brain function. There are many symptoms of concussion, common ones being headache, dizziness, memory disturbance or balance problems. It causes short-lived neurological impairment and the symptoms may evolve over the hours or days following the injury. The symptoms usually resolve without medical intervention. Rest, followed by gradual return to activity, is the main treatment. If activity is not stopped after sustaining a concussion, recovery is often be prolonged and the risk of complications is significantly increased3.
What causes concussion?
Concussion can be caused by a direct blow to the head but can also occur when a blow to another part of the body results in rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head e.g. whiplash type injuries.
What are the risks of concussion?
The majority of concussions resolve within 7-10 days. The risk of complications is increased if a concussed athlete continues playing/participating after sustaining a concussion, especially if they receive another blow to the head. The most severe short term complication is the Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), which is a severe swelling of the brain after a second impact, resulting in severe metabolic dysfunction in the brain which is often fatal4.
The most important medium term complication of concussion is prolonged symptoms of concussion, sometimes called “post-concussion syndrome”, presenting with persistent headache, dizziness, balance problems, inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances which can last for weeks or months5.
In the long term, repeated blows to the head can lead to early degeneration of the brain, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), causing early onset dementia (similar to Alzheimer’s disease) or other permanent brain dysfunction6.
Concussion often affects balance, agility, speed of eye tracking, and response time, all important functions in most sports, including football78. Playing with concussion can result in poor decision making, slow reaction times, inaccurate execution of tasks, all of which cause poor performance. Important competitions have been lost because of a key player being left on the field after sustaining a concussion9
There is a 50% increased risk of subsequent injuries of any other body part, especially lower limb injuries, in previously concussed athletes for a year after a concussion10,11. Furthermore, previously concussed athletes are more concussion-prone, sustaining future concussions more easily, and experiencing more severe and prolonged symptoms12.
Concussions can happen to players at any age. However, children and adolescents (18 and under):
- are more susceptible to brain injury
- take longer to recover
- have more significant memory and mental processing issues
- are more susceptible to rare and dangerous neurological complications, including death caused by a single or second impact.
Studies indicate that concussion rates in women are higher than in men in football.
A history of previous concussion increases the risk of further concussions, which may also take longer to recover.