Concussion Guidelines for Community Sport

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

At Physio Inq Sutherland and Physio Inq Engadine we love to help people gradually return to sport when they’ve been impacted by concussion. We were excited to see the Australian Institute of Sport release their new Concussion in Australian Sport guidelines in February 2024 – to help recognise and manage concussion for youth and community sport promptly, safely and appropriately. Let us explain who the guidelines are for; what is concussion; what causes concussion; what are the complications of concussion; how to recognise concussion; and what are the recommendations for return to sport.

Who are the Australian Concussion Guidelines for?

The new guidelines are made for:

  • Parents
  • Coaches
  • Athletes
  • Match officials
  • Concussion officers 
  • Teachers 
  • Students 

What is concussion?

  • Mild brain injury resulting in a temporary disturbance in brain function 
  • It can affect a person in many ways including physical health, emotion, sleep, cognition and fatigue 

What causes concussion?

  • Collision (i.e head knock) with another player or object, e.g. goal posts or ground
  • Can be a minor knock or a heavy knock
  • It can even be through indirect forces to the head, e.g. collision in the chest causing an impulsive force to the head

Complications of concussion:

  • Prolonged symptoms, especially if not managed appropriately
  • Susceptibility to further injury 
  • Association with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – a neurodegenerative disorder associated with repeated head trauma  

Recognising concussion:

If you consider yourself a non-medical professional and are involved in school or community sports, please use this tool to help recognise concussion. 

Useful tip – print the tool and have it on standby in a central location or within a first aid kit.

Obvious signs of concussion include neck pain, increasing confusion/agitation/irritability, repeated vomiting, seizure or convulsion, weakness or tingling/burning in the arms or legs, deteriorating conscious state, severe or increasing headache, unusual behavioural change, loss of vision or double vision, visible deformity of the skull, loss of consciousness.

Click here to access the Free Concussion Recognition Tool

How do you treat obvious concussion?

Remove from play safely, call an ambulance if concerned and/or refer to your nearest Emergency Department

Apply principles of first aid and neck protection 

Subtle signs of concussion include pale, nausea, difficulty concentrating, headache or ‘pressure in the head’, fatigue, feeling slowed or ‘not right’, sensitivity to light/noise, dazed, blank/vacant stare, confusion, disorientation, behaviour or emotional changes, memory impairment or not ‘themselves’.

How do you treat subtle concussion?

  • Ensure they do not return to play if they are at a game
  • See medical practitioner at the earliest opportunity 
  • Relative rest for both the body and mind for the first 24-48 hours following the symptom onset. That means time off from usual daily activities including school, sport, gym, TV and electronic devices. 
  • See your physiotherapist once you have seen your medical practitioner and after the first 48 hours so you can begin a graded return to sport. 

What not to do after a concussion?

  • Be left alone initially (at least for 3hrs). Worsening symptoms should lead to immediate medical attention
  • Drink alcohol, use recreational drugs or drugs not prescribed by their healthcare practitioner
  • Be sent home by themselves. They need to be with a responsible adult
  • Drive a motor vehicle until cleared to do so by a healthcare practitioner

How long after hitting head can concussion symptoms start?

Be mindful of delayed symptoms! Sometimes concussion is not detected or suspected at the time of injury. It is important to observe the athlete for the next 72 hours after a game for any subtle symptoms or signs.

What do the guidelines recommend for return to sport?

  • The athlete should be symptom free for 14 days (at rest) before return to contact training.
  • The athlete should not return to competitive contact sport until a minimum of 21 days from the time of concussion.
  • Return to learn and work activities should take priority over return to sport. 
  • Getting back to daily activities early is associated with improved symptom resolution and a shorter recovery time. 

The new Australian Concussion Guidelines for Youth and Community Sport are perfect for all involved in or around sport, including parents, coaches, teachers, students and participants in community and youth sport. They are easy to follow and contain step-by-step actions, with an emphasis on the health of the athlete and the return-to-play process. Remember “If in doubt, sit them out” if you suspect a concussion. And, ensure you involve your local GP and physiotherapist in their recovery and for graded return to sport! 

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