Young footballers endangering their health

30 October, 2012

Dr Frédéric Gilbert from the University of Tasmania has warned that youth suffering repeated concussions while playing in any of Australia's three football codes are endangering their health.

Speaking at the 3rd Neurotrauma Symposium at the UTAS School of Medicine Dr Gilbert said Australia's football codes need to adopt precautionary measures requiring concussed footballers to leave the field.

Dr Gilbert's research on the effects of concussion on American footballers reports concussions are implicated in a degenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

"Of special concern in the case of youth athletes is that their developing brains put them at increased risk for lasting neurocognitive and developmental deficits that can result in behavioural disturbances and diminished academic performance," he said.

"Compared to adults, youths have larger heads relative to their bodies, along weaker necks, such that more force from hits to the head is distributed to the brain rather than the body."

He said that evidence points strongly to the conclusion that players with a history of three or more concussions are more than nine times more likely to demonstrate three or more on-field markers of concussion severity than athletes with no prior history of concussion.

"Parents need to be aware that the negative effects of concussions on scholastic performance and behaviour long after the obvious symptoms are over," Dr Gilbert said.

While precautionary measures such as mandatory ‘sit-out' periods after concussion and having qualified physicians to diagnose concussion at the games could be effective, Dr Gilbert maintains much more research must be done in the area.

"It's essential that researchers, physicians and the football codes commission large-scale studies of head injuries in elite and younger players," he said.

"And there needs to be more research on whether wearing protective head-gear would make a difference, as well as gaining a better understanding of the number and causes of concussion to help shape rule modifications and training practices that would reduce the risk of concussions occurring."

Dr Gilbert's research on the effects of concussion on US footballers was published recently in the American Journal of Bioethics; his comments on Australian football were published in the Medical Journal of Australia in May this year.