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New guidelines over sports concussions introduced

Recognition of concussion and brain injuries has become more common in recent years. Photo: AAP

Recognition of concussion and brain injuries has become more common in recent years. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP

New concussion guidelines to help protect Australia’s grass-roots athletes have been introduced.

The guidelines, announced on Thursday by sports and medical officials, include a return-to-sport protocol aimed at ensuring a minimum three-week break between a concussion and the resumption of competitive contact or collision sport.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), in partnership with Sports Medicine Australia (SMA), launched its Concussion and Brain Health Position Statement 2024 on Thursday, alongside the Australian Concussion Guidelines for Youth and Community Sport.

The guidelines, developed in collaboration between the AIS, SMA, the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians, and the Australian Physiotherapy Association, have used the most up-to-date, evidence-based information on concussion for athletes, parents, teachers, coaches and healthcare practitioners.

“With concussion being a major issue in sport, it is imperative that all athletes, not just those competing at an elite level who have immediate access to team doctors, get the care and attention they need,” Sports Medicine Australia CEO Jamie Crain said.

“These guidelines will help keep all young and community-based athletes safe.

“The fact they align with international concussion guidelines demonstrates that they are practical, robust and effective.”

Federal health minister Mark Butler told Channel Nine the new guidelines would add peace of mind for parents and others overseeing community sport.

“It’s going to give real confidence to parents,” he said.

“I used to ride the boundary watching my son play footy. By the time they’re in their early teens now, they are big units and they hit hard.

“Every now and then you’d see a kid knocked out and it was a real worry for not just the parents but for the whole group around the boundaries.”

In addition to the 21 day ‘time out’ following a concussion, the minister highlighted the introduction of concussion officers to “make sure that the kids or the adults in community sport are being followed up by … medical experts”.

The AIS return-to-sport protocol for community and youth sport includes:

  • Introduction of light exercise after an initial 24-48 hours of relative rest.
  • Several checkpoints to be cleared prior to progression.
  • Gradual reintroduction of learning and work activities. As with physical activity, cognitive stimulation such as using screens, reading and undertaking learning activities should be gradually introduced after 48 hours.
  • At least 14 days symptom-free (at rest) before return to contact/collision training. The temporary exacerbation of mild symptoms with exercise is acceptable, as long as the symptoms quickly resolve at the completion of exercise, and as long as the exercise-related symptoms have completely resolved before resumption of contact training.
  • A minimum period of 21 days until the resumption of competitive contact/collision sport.
  • Consideration of all symptom domains (physical, cognitive, emotional, fatigue, sleep) throughout the recovery process.
  • Return to learn and work activities should take priority over return to sport. That is, while graduated return to learn/work activities and sport activities can occur simultaneously, the athlete should not return to full contact sport activities until they have successfully completed a fully return to learn/work activities.
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