Concussion management has come to the forefront of Australian media in recent years, as concerns grow amongst the public about the incidence of sport-related head injuries and the potential health ramifications for athletes of all levels. Whilst the media fuels misinformation about concussions and the recovery process, sporting bodies are working furiously in the background to make sure that there is unambiguous and reliable information readily accessible to all medical practitioners, coaches, athletes, and parents.
When an elite athlete receives a concussion or successive concussions due to ongoing participation in contact, collision, or combat sports, the media is quick to report on career-ending symptoms and long-term consequences. What they fail to convey is that the athlete did not receive the medical assistance they needed in order to make a full recovery and a safe and controlled return to play.
In the last few years, there has been an increased focus on the importance of diagnosing and managing concussive injuries promptly, safely, and appropriately. The media would help reduce the stigma around concussions if they made reference to concussion management and reported that a full recovery is possible with a carefully-managed plan for rest, rehabilitation, and monitoring. However, the headlines that gain the most attention are the ones that involve an athlete’s prolonged symptoms or deteriorating brain function.
There is no denying that concussions can, and do, cause damage to a person’s brain function, health, and overall well-being. What causes the most damage is not the concussion itself, but poor post-concussion management. Athletes who are allowed time to rest, receive specialised medical attention, and go through a graduated return-to-play program are highly successful in their recovery.
Fortunately, there are many sporting bodies, institutions, codes, and even athletes themselves promoting the importance of proper concussion management. Mandated rules around head knocks are in place across most high-risk sports, and today they use the mantra “if in doubt, sit it out”. Attitudes towards concussions in professional sports have come a long way, however, the media needs to be committed to increasing the awareness of proper concussion management, rather than sensationalising the after-effects of concussions in the worst cases.