Concussion can be a killer

Written by on May 22, 2013 in Concussion Articles

By: Robyn Joubert

Know how to recognize the hidden dangers of concussion

Concussion is nothing new – it was probably invented by cudgel-wielding cavemen. And until not so long ago, a wallop to the head was identified as concussion if it lead to brief loss of consciousness or amnesia.

But today, there are 20 new criteria for concussion, which include physical symptoms, changes in personality or emotions, sleep disturbances, depression and poor academic performance.

10 to 15% of high school rugby players will suffer a concussion in any season, while 50% of high school players will suffer a concussion at some point. Given the high incidence of concussion, it’s important for role players – coaches, players and parents to recognise the symptoms and correctly treat concussion injury.

Concussion is a huge problem in all contact sports – but particularly rugby – because it is generally underestimated, says Dr Glen Hagemann, medical advisor for the Discovery SharkSmart programme.

“People often don’t realize that they have been concussed. They perceive it to be a loss of consciousness, but you don’t have to be knocked out to be concussed. And because concussion is often hidden; players don’t declare it as they don’t want to sit out of games.”

“A player with concussion or suspected concussion should immediately be removed from the field and kept under observation. It’s essential not to listen to their pleas to return to the field – one of the signs of concussion is the player is adamant they are fit to play.

Most concussions will be simple ones, and players will recover after a few days. Even so, school players should not return to play for at least three weeks, only if all symptoms have completely healed, and only if he is not taking medication that may affect the symptoms of concussion.

Second Impact Syndrome

There’s a good reason to follow the advice of “when in doubt, sit them out” – and it’s called Second Impact Syndrome.

“The risk of a player who has un undiagnosed concussion suffering a second concussion when he returns to play is more likely,” says Glen. “Second Impact Syndrome is potentially fatal. Brain function is already compromised and a second direct or indirect blow can cause rapid coma and death. While this does not happen very often, the implications are significant. Another concern is the accumulative effect of repeated minor injury to the brain, leading to long term problems.”

Second Impact Syndrome is thought to be particularly significant among younger players and is suspected to have been the cause of several deaths on school playing fields in the past.

One of the great challenges to combating concussion injuries is the competitive nature of schoolboy sport. “Schoolboys feel immense pressure keep playing after a knock and are afraid of being sidelined,” says Dr Hagemann. “And instead of keeping their sons off the field after a concussion, ambitious parents go to various doctors for second or third opinions in a desperate effort to get them back on the field. And yet, all it can take is another bad knock.”

Source: Discovery SharkSmart

Typical signs of concussion

  • Confusion, loss of or impaired memory

  • Poor co-ordination or balance

  • Convulsion or seizure (fit)

  • Slow to answer questions or follow directions

  • Distracted, poor concentration

  • Unsteady on their feet

  • Unusual or inappropriate emotion (anger, sadness or crying)

  • Vomiting

  • Vacant stare, glassy eyed

  • Slurred speech

  • Personality changes

  • Inappropriate playing (eg running the wrong way)

  • Significantly decreased playing ability

  • Often are adamant that they are fine and refuse to leave the field


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