Violence in Sport
The human brain is so complex that we still have a long way to
go in understanding brain injury. Through most of the 20th century
it was believed that if there was no period of unconsciousness then
there would be no lasting effects from a traumatic brain injury.
Research then revealed that there can be lifelong effects from a
mild brain injury even if the person remained conscious. Even more
recent research is now confirming that brain injuries can occur
with repeated impacts to the brain, even when they don't result in
a concussion (generally seen as the mildest form of injury to the
brain). Increasingly we are aware that our brains are more fragile
than previously thought.
A FRAGILE BRAIN
It has taken years to establish how fragile the brain is as it is
very difficult to diagnose brain injury from repeated impacts not
resulting in concussion (sub-concussive impacts). Many of the
findings come from autopsies conducted on military personnel,
footballers, boxers and other athletes. Studies on living subjects
are confirming these findings (such as a report in the June 2012
issue of American Academy of Neurology) that sub-concussive impacts
in contact sports is affecting the learning ability of US college
students. New brain imaging techniques are revealing how the brain
is injured from repeated mild traumas to the head.
This is a major cause for concern when many young Australians grow
up playing contact sports, especially when there are no
requirements to wear head protection for sports like football
(unlike our American cousins).
PERMANENT INJURY FROM CONCUSSION
So what about actual concussion? The dangers of ongoing minor
trauma to the head have been known for years in sports like boxing.
The symptoms of Dementia pugilistica typically emerge over years,
and include the typical symptoms of a brain injury and also the
risk of Parkinsonism, tremors and unsteady gait. Sports such as
football have come under increasing scrutiny.
THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT?
A Neurosurgeon in a recent Four Corners report is so concerned by
the growing evidence for permanent brain injury from repeated
concussions that he believes a "three strikes and you're out" rule
should apply to concussions. Currently there is no ruling on
repeated concussions, but the three major football codes in
Australia wisely insist that a player with concussion cannot finish