The government has published the first concussion guidelines for athletes in grassroots sports across the UK, urging them not to return to play within 24 hours of a head injury.
Caution is advised with the message: “If in doubt, take them out.”
But any risk is being balanced by still encouraging people to play sport for the health benefits in guidelines produced by the government and the Sport and Recreation Alliance.
They are a response to growing concerns about potential neurodegenerative conditions among former football and rugby players, with research showing they may be more likely to develop dementia or Parkinson’s than the general population following repeated blows to the head.
The group that drafted the guidelines was chaired by Professor James Calder, a renowned surgeon who has operated on football stars including Gareth Bale and Neymar.
He told Sky News: ‘We know that sport and exercise are good for both mental and physical health.
“We need to have guidance, if a person has a concussive event. And there hasn’t been guidance in the whole of the UK.
“Scotland introduced some guidelines several years ago and… it seems appropriate that we actually produce guidelines for the whole of the UK which can then be rolled out to all different types of sport.”
Guidelines advise against phone and computer use for at least the first 48 hours after a suspected concussion to “improve recovery.”
They add: “Anyone with a concussion should generally rest for 24 to 48 hours, but can engage in easy activities of daily living and walking, but should avoid strenuous exercise, strenuous work, or sports.
“They can then progress through the gradual return to activity (education/work) and sports programme.
“Anyone with symptoms lasting more than 28 days should be evaluated and managed by an appropriate healthcare professional.”
To know more:
Brain injury campaigners ‘bitterly disappointed’ by rejection of Premier League trial over concussion substitutes
Retired rugby players who suffered from concussions more depressed and anxious, study suggests
But sticking around or making a quick comeback can be tough to resist, even after a blow to the head.
Simon Shaw was always thinking about the present: playing as much rugby as possible for England and the British and Irish Lions before campaigning with a concussion.
He told Sky News: ‘I was playing a high contact sport. I was ready to take risks, whether it was a dislocated shoulder or a broken ankle or whatever it was.
“Obviously there was a lot of bravado in our sport. I tried to stay on the pitch as often as possible, but I was acutely aware that there could be problems in the future.”
That’s why she supports the guidelines released today, adding, “Just making sport, whatever the concussion risk, a much safer place is very important to the health and well-being of the nation.”
This guide is aimed at grassroots sport where doctors won’t often be there to treat suspected concussions like last week in the Premier League: a crash resulted in Jan Bednarek being replaced by Southampton, despite the defender wanting to play at Arsenal.
For those researching degenerative brain diseases, it’s about managing the safe return to play after head injury, not dissuading people from playing.
The goal is to one day have saliva or blood tests for a concussion.
‘We don’t have it yet and we’re working hard,’ said Professor Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last few years that would have been unthinkable before then. But we have… still a long way to go.”