Handling of Concussions in World Cup bad for all Athletes

By Anne Russo, PhD

World Cup fever may be over, but news stories about the concussions multiple players received during the month-long event are far from over. Millions of people across the globe watched as Germany’s Christoph Kramer head slammed into an Argentine player’s shoulder during the final match, but was allowed to continue playing for another fifteen minutes… before being helped off the field, dazed and confused.

Take_Concussions_Serious-Image

His traumatic brain injury (yes, concussions are traumatic brain injuries) wasn’t the only one witnessed during the matches. Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira overruled his team doctor and stayed on the field after being knocked out. Argentina’s Javier Mascherano returned to the game almost immediately following a blow to the head that had him staggering to the ground.

It’s scary to think that a sporting event with millions of worldwide viewers conveys the message that you can still play after suffering a traumatic brain injury. In fact, it’s sad.

We know that every athlete wants to compete and fight for his or her team. Coaches, parents and fans want the win as well. So when one of the players takes a hit, the desire to win (and the lack of understanding about concussions) can keep the player on the field, risking not only their chance of a quicker recovery, but their life, too.

Ignoring a concussion can lead to a range of outcomes. The athlete can lose the ability to function physically, cognitively and socially. There is an increased risk for mood problems. Oftentimes, those changes lead to loss of job, friends or family. In some cases, ignoring a concussion can lead to loss of life. The consequences of a concussion are real and any blow to the head should not be ignored.

During practice or gameplay, if an athlete takes a blow to the head, they need to be pulled from the game and thoroughly evaluated by an independent party – one not emotionally attached to the outcome of the game, but the quality of life of the athlete. Plus, a complete concussion evaluation takes longer than two to three minutes, which is oftentimes how long the World Cup soccer players spent out of play before returning.

Bringing concussions to a more local level, the Utah Department of Health reported in 2011 that 6,228 Utahns were treated and released from an emergency department for a concussion. Forty-one percent of those injuries were due to sports/recreation activities. Girls soccer and boys football are the two biggest offenders of concussion-related injuries across the board – and both high school-level sports get underway in the coming weeks.

We want people to continue playing sports. Sports in any form are invaluable to so many areas of our skill building. But we must take every concussion seriously. They are a traumatic brain injury and can’t be taken lightly.