On February 27th 2023, news broke that a class action lawsuit will be imminently launched against the AFL, on behalf of former players. Whilst the full details are yet to be revealed, there is already plenty of discussion around what this means for not only the affected former players, but also with respect to those currently playing across all levels from the community to the AFL. It is entirely understandable to hear such news and develop some concerns over your health, or the health of friends/family, should there be a history of concussions. However, we would like to take the opportunity to fill in some gaps in this discussion with the hope to minimise any fears.
Research around the long-term effects of multiple concussions is still very much in its infancy. There is no clear correlation between a history of multiple concussions and with negative health outcomes, but studies do generally lean towards an indication that there may be some form of effect that is yet to be determined. However, an important point that is often left unmentioned is that this data takes several years to develop.
This means that studies looking at past professional or semi-professional players are including those who played during eras where concussions were not greatly understood. They played during eras where they would often play on after a concussive event, sometimes failing to even leave the field before continuing to play. It is easy to look at the sad cases of Shane Tuck and Danny Frawley (both lost their battles with depression; a topic which will be discussed in a future blog) and develop the expectation that such an outcome may be an inevitability for anyone that exposes themselves to contact sports. However, we have moved past the era of sending concussed players out to play. We now know that such an approach is not only incorrect, but downright dangerous to the health of these individuals. As such, if we have the data from the poor management of these players included in these studies, then it can make it difficult to ascertain just how much of their deleterious outcomes are due to the concussions, themselves, and how much is due to the concussion management at the time.
This is not to say that concussions are an entirely overblown fear; not at all. This is to say that concussions, if managed properly, will not necessarily result in the type of outcomes we are seeing from these past players. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of concussion in sport is to choose not to play. If this is not a feasible option for you or your family, then you can still do more.
Talk to your coaches about devoting some amount of your regular training sessions to protecting yourself when in contact situations, or establishing an information session to discuss the risks of concussion –something that our concussion trained physiotherapists can facilitate. Most importantly, however, is to ensure you do not make the same mistakes as the players and clubs of the past did, should you get a concussion.
This means seeking immediate care with trained professionals, such as here at TSIC, in order to expeditiously work through your rehabilitation process and get you back to playing quickly, and safely. This means following the latest evidence and obtaining pre-season baseline testing in order to provide the most accurate data, facilitating your safe return to sport. Most importantly, this means not developing an unhealthy fear, and knowing that our understanding of concussions is ever-developing.
Unfortunately, you cannot control your sport to the extent that concussions won’t occur, but you CAN control what you do once you have one. In the event that you sustain one, come see us for care that is based on the latest evidence to ensure that the mistakes of concussion management in the past do not repeat themselves.