Falls and knocks occur quite commonly during netball games and one of the more serious injuries that can arise from an impact is concussion. This is the most common but least serious type of traumatic brain injury. The word concussion comes from the Latin word concutere, which means “to shake violently.” With advancements in technology resulting in better imaging techniques, we now understand that concussion is a real brain injury and needs to be taken seriously.
Concussions in netball typically occur after a high force impact, such as when two players collide or when a player falls down, hitting their head against the ground. It is important to recognise when this type of injury has occurred so it can be treated correctly; being well informed will help you do this.
Post-concussion symptoms include:
fatigue or drowsiness
loss of concentration – confusion
loss of memory (amnesia)
noise and light sensitivity
loss of consciousness
Usually some of these symptoms are apparent immediately, but they can also worsen with time. Headaches that occur after a concussion can vary and may feel like tension-type headaches or migraines. Most, however, are tension-type headaches, which may be associated with a neck injury that happened alongside the head injury.
Not everyone with concussion passes out, which makes identifying the condition harder. Unfortunately, people with concussion may be viewed as being ‘funny’ or acting the clown if uncoordinated or irritable. In some cases people experience behavioural or emotional changes after a mild concussion. Family members who notice that the person has become more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or stubborn need to keep the person quiet (no activity) and note any deterioration (worsening) in symptoms.
Remember – a team member who is ‘not themselves’, vague or out of character should be watched closely and kept quiet.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor if you experience a head injury severe enough to cause confusion or amnesia, even if you never lose consciousness. Any deterioration in the symptoms listed above, even hours or days after a head trauma, is also an indication to seek medical attention.
If a concussion occurs while you’re playing a sport, don’t return to the game. Seek first aid straight away so that you don’t risk worsening your injury. Go home to rest and do not participate in any vigorous activity.
Following a concussion the brain is in far more sensitive a state, so all sport and vigorous activity should be avoided until recovery has fully occurred. Some people recover within a few hours, while others may take several weeks. Concussion is usually temporary but in 15-30% of cases symptoms fail to resolve. This minority group can suffer from symptoms that persist and affect normal daily functions, such as study and work.
It’s important to take concussion seriously, as repeated concussions can lead to long term neuro–degeneration (chronic traumatic encephalopathy –CTE) which results in problems with speech, learning and movement.
When to see a physio
Not all impacts or collisions will lead to a concussion, however neck and shoulder pain after an impact is common. Neck and shoulder pain should be seen to as quickly as possible. It is usually an injury that responds well to physiotherapy intervention. Remember – pain that does not ease with rest within 24 hours, pain that increases in intensity or pain that develops pins and needle into the hands/ arms needs to have treatment before resuming play.