Doctors recently reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that professional UK football teams (or professional soccer teams, for those in the U.S.) aren't adhering to standard international guidelines for players that suffer concussions.
The Consensus in Sport guidelines stipulate that teams should assess their players before the start of each season, in order to establish a baseline cognitive score. Then, if a player suffers a head injury, the team's medical personnel can hold him back from play until he returns to normal.
Three researchers from the Center for Sports and Exercise Medicine at the University of London sent questionnaires to the medical officers of all 92 teams in the English Football league.
The results were sobering: Instead of following recommended procedures, many teams are failing to assess their players before and after concussions and are using outdated fixed periods of rest after head injuries.
More than a quarter of the teams surveyed had not even heard of the most recent consensus statement on concussion guidelines. Fewer than half of Premiership teams made preseason cognitive assessments for players, and only one in 10 teams scored the symptoms of players that suffered concussions.
"This represents a deficiency in the knowledge of medical teams treating elite players," the authors wrote.
Plus, while following the guidelines would prevent teams from returning injured players to the field too soon, it would also help them reduce unnecessary absences. The CIS guidelines recommend reviewing a player's symptoms every 24 hours to check for a return to baseline.
"This questionnaire established that at least one premiership side and some lower league teams enforced unfounded and probably excessive set rest periods" between three and 28 days, the authors wrote.
Lead author Jo Price said in a phone interview many teams fail to look for signs of impaired concentration in head-injured players before sending them back onto the pitch.
"If a player is not able to concentrate as well, that puts him at risk for further injuries and also means he's not able to perform at 100 percent capacity," Price said.
SOURCE: Price et al. "Current practices in determining return to play following head injury in professional football in the UK." British Journal of Sports Medicine published online 27 August 2012.