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What are concussion protocols?

View profile for Kim Chamberlain
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The issue of sports-related concussion is once again in the headlines as MPs call on the Government to introduce better concussion protocols in sport. 

According to the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Acquired Brain Injury, chaired by Labour MP Chris Bryant, there is "poor awareness" and a "lack of knowledge" in managing sports-related brain injuries.

In addition, “return to play” guidelines following concussions are “often not understood or implemented adequately”.

Despite several sports governing bodies launching awareness campaigns about concussion, there are still no standardised concussion protocols across sports at all levels in the UK.

But what are concussion protocols exactly? And how should all sports - from the grass roots level to the very top - introduce measures to protect players from dangerous concussions?

Concussion in sport has become an increasingly high profile topic across the world. In the USA, the NFL has been widely criticised and held legally liable for ignoring the long-term effects of brain injury.

And in the UK, there have been reports of former footballers suffering dementia as well as news of two former players dying from brain trauma sustained during their footballing careers.

Concussion protocols are essentially a set of procedures for both the diagnosis and management of concussions.

While various sports governing bodies – including the RFU, the FA and England Hockey – have launched concussion awareness campaigns and new protocols, there are concerns there is no unified agreement and the message is not being filtered down enough to all levels of sport. 

In contrast, the Scottish Government and Sport Scotland have developed a single concussion policy across a range of sports, providing common guidelines for all.

The guidance provides practical information on recognising concussion and how it should be managed from the time of injury through to safe return to play.

It details the key steps to take in the aftermath of a suspected concussion and emphasises that the individual should be immediately removed from play.

In terms of ongoing management of concussion, it recommends the amount of rest required, depending on the player’s age and a graduated return to play (GRTP) programme to be followed.

The Scottish concussion protocols have been praised for encompassing all sports. As Dr Michael Grey, a neurologist at the University of East Anglia said: “brains aren’t different depending on what sports are being played”.

The brain injury charity Headway, which Novum Law works with closely, is also leading the charge for a common set of concussion protocols across sport that is followed and not ignored, as was the case during the World Cup earlier this year.

Luke Griggs, Headway’s director of communications, said: “Every such incident risks undoing the excellent work being done to change attitudes towards head injuries.”

It’s clear that pressure is growing on government to ensure there is a common system of concussion protocols for as many relevant sports as possible and to remove the wide divergence that currently exists. 

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