Footy codes warned on head knocks

by Symptom Advice on May 15, 2012

Head clash: Footballers and administrators have been warned of the dangers of concussions. Picture: Michael Dodge Source: Herald Sun

MEDICAL experts have said Australian football codes must investigate the long-term impact of head injuries and concussions.

Concerns are intensifying over the potential for concussions to cause long-term harm after autopsies on brains of American National Football League players showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), two Australian researchers say.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease with similar symptoms to early onset dementia.

Players of Australia’s three major football codes regularly sustain concussions, raising concerns about possible brain damage, cognitive impairment and mental health problems, the researchers say in an article published on the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) website today.

The University of Tasmania’s Frederic Gilbert and the University of Queensland’s Bradley Partridge say there is an urgent need to investigate the cumulative effects of head traumas over long periods by tracking athletes’ playing history and recording head injuries.

They say the research would require the co-operation of all three codes – Australian rules, rugby league and rugby union – and the findings could prove controversial.

"This research may raise uncomfortable questions about how head injuries are managed but it is crucial for the football codes to facilitate such research to ensure the safety and future welfare of their players," the article said.

Reducing the risk of concussive impacts was even more important in amateur leagues to protect vulnerable young players, Dr Gilbert and Dr Partridge said.

In an editorial in the MJA, director of neurosurgery at Royal Melbourne Hospital, Andrew Kaye, said athletes, referees, administrators, parents and coaches all had a responsibility to learn about when it was safe to play again after injury.

Prof Kaye, a board director of AFL club Hawthorn, said the AFL and NRL had developed their own concussion guidelines in line with the Zurich consensus statement, considered world’s best practice.

However, he said there was a danger that links between CTE and the playing history of American footballers and ice hockey players had been overstated.

Media interest had centred on a handful of reported cases, some of which involved a family history of dementia and illicit drug use, he said.

"Critically, the detection of pathological change in the brains of former athletes does not necessarily support a causal relationship with their sporting careers or history of head impacts," he said.

All three medical experts said the use of protective headgear was problematic in sport as athletes altered their playing behaviour, with some American footballers using their helmets as "weapons". 

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