Tackling concussions and CTE pitchside

This weekend saw the release of the movie Concussion, which stars Will Smith and which tackles the subject of head injuries in sport.

Concussion tells the story of a young pathologist who discovers a progressive brain disease in the brain of a former NFL American football player. He called this disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Over 150 cases of CTE have been found in the 14 years since this discovery: most of them in American football players. These players had experienced symptoms such as moods, depression, loss of memory and sometimes similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease but at a young age.

CTE is caused by repeated injury or trauma to the head. Repeated head injuries in sport can have serious long term consequences. This is not only a big concern for American Football, but also for sports such as rugby and boxing. This is an explanation for boxers being “punch drunk”.

Although American Football is growing in popularity in the UK, it is more likely to be rugby players here that are affected by head injuries and the possible development of CTE.

The risk of CTE after one episode of concussion is low: it is repeated concussive injuries which increase the risk of CTE. These repeated concussions may not always be picked up or reported by the players involved.

The management of concussion is very important. Getting back up and playing immediately after a knock to the head is not the correct action, especially as you do not need to be knocked unconscious to suffer concussion. Symptoms can also include poor concentration, headache, dizziness, memory loss and/or nausea.

It is important these sports have qualified personnel on hand to deal with any trauma and recognise a potential concussion injury. While guidelines in rugby have changed to offer more protection, it is still incumbent on management, players and injury treatment staff to ensure they are fully trained in recognising and treating concussion injuries.

Newcastle Sports Injury Clinic supplies pitchside physiotherapists as part of the services we offer to top-level sports teams across the region. These include attending rugby and American Football matches and, because of this, our pitchside physios have additional training to ensure they are fully aware of the symptoms, causes and necessary treatment for concussion.