Alarming rise in children's sports head injuries prompts calls for improved safety measures amid long-term effects warnings

29 November 2023, 13:21 | Updated: 2 December 2023, 17:45

Anthony Watson (England International), Mark Gannon (CEO of UK Coaching), Katie Heirene (Coach at Crewe and Nantwich RUFC) discuss concussion

By Chris Chambers

More than 4,000 children were treated for head injuries sustained during sports over the last year.

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Data from Return2Play, which works closely with schools, shows around 75% of those injuries were suffered while playing rugby, and in more than 300 cases, the young people had to be referred to see a specialist because of concentration issues in school.

Dr Sam Barke is Head of Sports Medicine and told LBC: "This is the data of just the patients we're seeing.

"These injuries are happening all over the place, and our data is skewed slightly in that a lot of the schools we work with are rugby settings so there is a higher risk of concussion.

"It's happening everywhere, football, hockey, netball for girls, lacrosse for girls... all these sports carry a risk of injury.

"How do we take reasonable measures to limit the risk of these injuries happening? We all acknowledge the need to take precautions and we're seeing that in rugby with rule changes, certainly at grassroots level, and with heading in football.

"And, there's managing the injury properly which is only ever improving. Knowledge has changed vastly over a pretty short time. We can now look back and say things were probably being done wrong, with knowledge of risk and acting on it, but now we are definitely seeing changes in the way injuries are managed. More can be done, and we're seeing a separation between elite sport and grassroots, but there's no doubt things are improving and will have a positive effect going forward."

More than 4,000 children were treated for head injuries sustained during sport over the last year.
More than 4,000 children were treated for head injuries sustained during sport over the last year. Picture: Alamy

England international, Anthony Watson, has been speaking to LBC about the issue of concussion and its links to dementia. He said: "Concussion is taken very seriously because we're seeing the long-term effects of repeated concussions.

"Some of the things you're hearing, of guys like Steve Thompson who has won the World Cup and the things he's going through as a result of playing rugby, and a lack of awareness about concussion, nobody wants to be in the same position.

"What we go through now is a strict protocol and any blows to the head are immediately checked.

Millie and Jess (Players at Crewe and Nantwich), Katie Heirine (Coach at Crewe and Nantwich) Meghan (Player – and recovering from concussion), Sean McCarthy (Coach at Crewe and Nantwich), Lewis and Ellis (Players)

Neil Hastings is a coach with West Houghton Lions in Bolton which has started using a new app called Sport Smart, developed by Podium Analytics, that can help clubs, teachers and parents track injuries and manage them more effectively.

He told LBC: "We're coaching lads to play a sport which is tough, and you're going to get injuries. It plays on my mind every time we send them out that something could go wrong.

"If you get a head injury, sometimes there's no coming back from that, and we've never had such a tool that can support players in this way.

"It's something the club as a whole want to keep on top of. We're running it for under-4s right through to open age."

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