Neuropsychological deficits are commonly reported following concussion in sport. Such deficits are believed to impact on player performance and may predispose the player to further injuries. Hence, decisions regarding timing of safe return to sport are critical in the management of the concussed player. Whilst much of the current research focuses on techniques to improve this decision-making process, no studies to date have looked at the clinical outcome of current management strategies used by doctors.
To examine the effects of concussion on player performance and injury rate following return to competition. To assess the clinical outcome of return to play strategies currently used in the management of concussion in Australian Football.
Data was collected on elite Australian Football players in season 2001. For players who were concussed during the course of the season, statistics were recorded for five games preceding their injury (baseline performance) and each of their first three games back after injury. Parameters examined included injury rate, possessions per quarter, tackles per game and number of unforced errors per game. Non-injured age, size, team and position matched players were chosen as controls.
47 concussions were recorded during season 2001. 18 cases were excluded from analysis due to incomplete data (16) or presence of concurrent injury which resulted in the players missing extra games(2). Of the 29 concussions examined, 23 players did not miss a game (82%). The remainder returned to competition after missing a single game (18%). The concussed players as a group averaged 3.5 possessions per quarter in their 5 games preceding injury and 3.2 possessions per quarter in their first three games after injury (p = 0.35). Similarly, there was no significant difference in the other performance parameters assessed. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the observed injury rate following concussion.
82% of elite Australian Footballers returned to competition without missing a game, with no detrimental effects observed in their performance and no increased risk of injury. Current management strategies used by AFL medical officers are safe and appropriate for the management of concussion in Australian football.