UK moves to tackle sporting concussion risks

The UK is to bring in new rules for grassroots sports which will see players who suffer a concussion banned from all sports for three weeks.

The government and the Sport and Recreation Alliance has issued the first UK-wide Concussion Guidelines for Grassroots Sport which is aimed at helping players, coaches, parents, schools, National Governing Bodies and sports administrators to identify, manage and prevent the issue.

It comes as the debate of the issue of the long term impact of concussion and head injuries in professional sports continues as scientific evidence of the effects mounts.

The guidelines, developed by an expert panel of domestic and international clinicians and academics in neurology and sports medicine, sets out steps to improve understanding and awareness of the prevention and treatment of concussion in grassroots sport where trained medical professionals are less likely to be routinely present. It is targeted at people of all ages.

‘If in doubt, sit them out’ is the strapline, making clear no-one should return to sport within 24 hours of a suspected concussion and builds on guidance already introduced in Scotland.

The guidelines include a recommendation to call NHS 111 within 24 hours of a potential concussion, to rest and sleep as much as needed for the first 24 to 48 hours and avoid using devices which involve screen time.

In addition, a graduated return to activity such as work, education and sport is advised to reduce the risks of slow recovery, further brain injury and longer-term problems. Individuals should be assessed by an appropriate healthcare professional if symptoms persist for more than four weeks.

Sports minister Stuart Andrew explained: “Sport keeps us healthy and active but it is not without risk and major injuries to the head can and do happen.

“Research has shown the importance of fast and effective tailored treatment and we are issuing expert guidance to help people spot and treat head injuries.

“Whether used in a local leisure centre during a swimming lesson or on a village green during a cricket match, the guidance will make a real difference to people’s lives.”

The government said the move meets a commitment set out in the Government’s Action Plan on Concussion in 2021 to introduce a national approach to prevent concussion and brain injury in sport, and to do so through a combination of improved research and new technologies.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser to the UK Government said: “These guidelines help players, referees, schools, parents and others balance the substantial health and social benefits and enjoyment from taking part in sport with minimising the rare but serious and potentially lifelong effects of concussion.”

Professor James Calder, Chair of the UK Concussion Guidelines Expert Drafting Group, said:

“For the first time we have UK-wide guidance that raises awareness of concussion in grassroots sport at all levels. It provides practical evidence-based advice for those who may have sustained a concussion and gives a step by step plan for their safe return to work, education, exercise and full sport.

“Participation in sport and exercise is crucial for the nation’s mental and physical health and, with appropriate management, the vast majority of those who sustain a concussion during sport should make a full recovery.”

Simon Shaw MBE, former England rugby union player and president of the ‘Love of the Game’ campaign, said: “Concussion in sport can be a serious issue if not managed properly and, as a former sportsperson, I’ve seen first-hand the impact head injuries can have.

“Whether playing football as part of a Sunday league or training for a boxing match, it’s crucial that sportspeople at every level are protected.

“This guidance will help everyone involved in grassroots sport recognise the signs of concussion and remove people from play where necessary. The information is clear: ‘If in doubt, sit them out.’

Great Britain cycling team endurance rider and Olympic champion Katie Archibald added: “Concussion is a difficult injury to get your head around. It has taken me a few incidents to learn to take it seriously, but now that I’ve experienced how much worse you can make things by ‘pushing through’, I would never rush a return to full training.

“I relied heavily on guidance from my National Governing Body, especially since a concussion can impact your judgement and decision making, so I’m glad these protocols will be regularly reviewed and updated.”