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Head injuries

During last night's Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax, Spurs player Jan Vertonghen clashed heads with one of his own players and an Ajax player. After seeking some medical attention on the pitch he was deemed suitable to carry on. After a few minutes, Jan was clearly seen suffering from concussion and helped from the pitch by his manager. According to his club, medical protocol was followed.

I am no medical expert, but seriously is this protocol suitable? Other sports have medical temporary substitutions for head injuries. Football does not.

The subject of head injuries in football is nothing new - there is some evidence that former great Jeff Astle died as a result of continuously heading a heavy leather ball throughout his career.

Head injuries can and do kill. My mum's cousin died after being punched once in the head in an unprovoked attack in 2017.

In the workplace, people die from head injuries - due to poor health and safety management. Hard hats help, but are not the only answer!

With any injury to the head, those vital few minutes after the knock are vital - even if the individual looks OK. Make sure medical attention is given as soon as possible, and monitor them afterwards. Don't let them operate machinery, etc. after a knock to the head.

Football, and probably many workplaces, need to review their protocols and culture relating to head injuries. Do not wait for a fatality to occur. Remember the sport is football, not headball. 

Head injuries can cause long term health issues. And they can kill.

The NHS website gives the following advice for head injuries:

Go to A&E immediately if, after a head injury you suffer any of these symptoms:

  • been knocked out but have now woken up

  • been vomiting since the injury

  • a headache that does not go away with painkillers

  • a change in behaviour, like being more irritable

  • problems with memory

  • been drinking alcohol or taking drugs just before the injury

  • a blood clotting disorder (like haemophilia) or take blood-thinners (like warfarin)

  • had brain surgery in the past

Concussion can take up to three weeks to show itself. So be extra careful. If in doubt, seek immediate medical help.

Update 18 August 2019

Yesterday during the second Ashes Test, Australian batsman Steve Smith was hit by a ball travelling at 92 mph in the upper neck. Excellent new concussion rules in cricket came into play and I am pleased to see cricket appear to have got it right. Initially Smith went off the field for tests which he passed before resuming play. However his concussion got worse overnight and extra tests rules him out for the rest of the match. He was substituted for a “concussion substitute”. Highlighting the importance of the concussion, Smith has today said:

“I started to feel a little bit of a headache coming on last night as the adrenaline I guess got out of my system. I was able to get a good sleep in, which is somewhat rare for me, but woke up feeling a little bit groggy and with a headache again. "I had some tests done and upon some further assessment, deemed to be a mild concussion, unfortunately, and I've been ruled out for the rest of this Test match. "They've declined a little bit. We did a test this morning here at the ground and did one last night and the results changed slightly. Unfortunately that and how I'm feeling have contributed to me being ruled out for the rest of the Test."

Well done to the sport of cricket for introducing their new concussion protocol. Sports and businesses can learn from this.

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