Concussion Management in Australian football

AFL Canada is committed to the health and safety of all people, from beginners to high performance athletes, who play the sport of Australian Football.

 

To achieve this, the AFL Canada has adopted a specific and consistent approach to a range of health and safety issues such as concussion, underpinned by education, awareness-raising activities, support services, social responsibilities, research and compliance.

 

The Issue

The game of Australian Football is a contact sport that involves high flying marks, extraordinary skills, and exhilarating tackles.  The rules of Australian Football have always had a focus on protecting the safety of players, with the most important body part being a players head.  The ‘high contact’ rule aims to minimize the frequency in which players receive contact to their head that may lead to brain injuries.

 

What is a Concussion?

Concussion is a brain injury that occurs from impact to a player's head, either through collision with another player (which includes whiplash from body contact) or with the ground.  Whilst the skull is in place to protect the brain, in a high impact collision, the brain can move back and forward within the skull causing temporary dysfunction.

Concussion is not always an immediate injury, and sometimes the symptoms may not present themselves until hours after the initial impact.  Some concussion symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Forgetfulness or memory problems
  • Vomiting
  • General unwell feeling, or feeling a bit 'off'
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion, slurred speech or unusual behavior 
  • Blurred or double vision

The appropriate management of concussion is essential in ensuring the brain has enough time to heal and recover.  Therefore anyone who experiences concussion type symptoms are encouraged to seek medical advice from their Doctor on how best to manage the injury. If any deterioration is observed, transport to an accident or emergency department should occur as soon as possible.

It is crucial that anyone with a diagnosed concussion does not immediately return to play sports including Australian Football.

As a temporary brain dysfunction, concussion will resolve with time. This may vary from an hour or so to several days. Occasionally the brain will recover even more slowly. The best treatment is rest from physical activity and work/study. The player should be seen by a doctor who will monitor the symptoms, signs and brain functioning. 

The doctor must clear the player to return to sporting activity and this will usually involve a stepped approach with a gradual increase in activities over a few days. The doctor may arrange a specialist opinion (if the concussion is slow to resolve) or cognitive testing (brain functioning). If at any stage the symptoms or signs are getting worse seek urgent medical attention. 

 

THE GUIDELINES

Head impacts can be associated with serious and potentially fatal brain injuries.

In the early stages of injury, it is often not clear whether you are dealing with a concussion or there is a more severe underlying structural head injury. For this reason, the most important steps in initial management include:

1. Recognizing a suspected concussion;
2. Removing the player from the game; and
3. Referring the player to a medical doctor for assessment.

Any player who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having a concussion must be medically assessed as soon as possible after the injury and must NOT be allowed to return to play in the same game/practice session.

There should be an accredited first aider at every game and the basic rules of first aid should be used when dealing with any player who is unconscious or injured.  

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

AFL has provided some great resources for concussion management during AFL matches.

The AFL Doctors Association has developed guidelines for trainers, first-aid providers, coaches, umpires, club officials and parents and should be understood and followed by all parties for the benefit and welfare of the players.

 

Additional Resources to assist your Club or League in building their Concussion Management resources are available by following these links:

AFL Canada Concussion Protocol

AFL Concussion Recognition Tool (Removal from Sport Protocol)

Return to Sport Strategy (Parachute Concussion Series)

AFL Concussion Working Group: The Management of Concussion in Australian Football

AFL's Position on the role of Helmets and Mouthguards in Australian Football

Pre-Season Concussion Education Sheet (Parachute Concussion Series)

Concussion 101 (CCES Active & Safe Program Resource)

Active & Safe Sport Organization Self-Assessment Tool (CCES Resource)

Active & Safe LTAD Matrix (CCES Resource)

SCATS5 (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool for Children age 5-12)

Concussion Guide for Athletes (Parachute Concussion Series)

Concussion Guide for Coaches & Trainers (Parachute Concussion Series)

Concussion Guide for Parents & Caregivers (Parachute Concussion Series)

You can access the AFL Community Football Head Injury Assessment Form (Microsoft Word document) here, which you can download and use to both assess and track a player's concussion-related symptoms to determine their return to sport suitability.

 

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