‘It can be hard to spot a concussion, but we’re hoping to change that’

The faster pace of games, more intense tackling, and the bulking-up of players pose a greater risk of concussion, writes Dr Alan Byrne.

Dr Alan Byrne

AS THE REPUBLIC of Ireland’s team doctor and as Medical Director of the FAI and of Advanced Medical Services, the prevention, diagnosis and management of concussion among sportspeople is something I feel very passionate about.

The signs and symptoms of concussion are not always evident at the time of the injury which is a challenge and one of the biggest dangers and risks posed to players, especially amateur and under-age players who don’t have the same level of medical expertise available to them as elite and professional players.

International research and a growing body of evidence from domestic sports suggests that sports-related concussion is a significant problem. A number of developments in Irish sport such as faster pace of games, increased and more intense tackling, and the bulking-up of players pose a challenge for sporting organisations, schools and players alike.

However, thankfully, we are seeing a more proactive approach to managing and reducing the risks of sports-related concussion.

As Medical Director with Advanced Medical Services, we felt there was a real need for a concussion evaluation and management programme for amateur and underage players. Schools and sports clubs across Ireland could greatly benefit from the medical support and expertise provided by our new service Concussion Management system, which is endorsed by the IRFU.

Helping those who may have suffered a concussive episode

ImPACT is designed to bring peace of mind to those who may have suffered a concussive episode and ensure they continue to follow correct rest and recovery protocols.

The service includes performing a baseline neurocognitive test which is done ideally at preseason. The test take approximately 30 minutes and includes the recording of the participant’s verbal memory, visual memory and reaction times. The software used is considered the most scientifically validated computerised concussion evaluation software and has tested over 8 million people.

In the event that a player has suspected concussion at some stage following their baseline test they will be seen by one of our team of doctors for a post injury test and clinical evaluation.

The goal of our service is to ensure that we manage each player’s concussion individually ensuring they don’t return to school, work or to the playing field too soon.

Concussion is an issue that needs to be taken seriously by all those involved in sport, at all levels.

So what is concussion?

Concussion is a brain injury and in its simplest form can be described as a disturbance of brain function. Concussion can be caused by either a direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head.

There are many symptoms of concussion, common ones being headache, dizziness, memory disturbance or balance problems. Loss of consciousness, or being ‘knocked out’, occurs in less than 10% of cases and loss consciousness is not required to diagnose concussion.

Who is at risk?

Concussion can happen at any age. However, children and adolescents (18 and under) are more susceptible to concussion, take longer to recover, have more significant memory and mental processing issues, are more susceptible to rare and dangerous neurological complications including death caused by a single or second impact – as are those who have a history of previous concussions, and who may take longer to recover.

Tips on how to recognise concussion

If any of the following signs or symptoms are present following an injury the player should be suspected of having a concussion and immediately removed from play or training.

The visible clues of a suspected concussion are a player who is: lying motionless on the ground, is slow to get up, unsteady on their feet, experiencing balance problems or is falling over, is grabbing or clutching head, has a dazed, blank or vacant look, is confused or not aware of plays or events, has a suspected or confirmed loss of consciousness and/ or a loss of responsiveness.

As the saying goes – ‘if in doubt, sit them out’.

Dr Alan Byrne is the Republic of Ireland’s team doctor and is the Medical Director of the FAI and of Advanced Medical Services.

To learn more about Advanced Medical Services concussion service ImPACT visit www.advancedmedicalservices.ie or call 1890 300 333.

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