More needed to protect our sportspeople from brain injury say Birmingham experts

Dr Michael J. GreyAn academic from the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences has called for more research to be carried out into how the brains of sportspeople – including children – react when they receive a blow to the head.

Dr Michael Grey’s call was echoed by Dawn Astle and Peter Robinson.

Dawn is the daughter of former West Bromwich Albion player Jeff Astle, who died from brain trauma caused by heading heavy footballs - a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Peter is the father of Ben Robinson, whose son died as a result of repeated concussions during a rugby match.

Dr Grey (pictured), along with Prof Tony Belli from the School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, is running a study to investigate the brains of sportspeople in the aftermath of a concussion.

Dr Grey and Prof Belli hope to develop a better test to aid the return-to-play decision.

During the British Science Festival in Birmingham the University's Institute of Advanced Studies hosted a gathering of key researchers and clinicians from across the UK.

They shared research ideas that may ultimately lead to answers over the damage done by repeated head trauma in sport.

Dr Grey and Prof Belli want to see more being done to protect players of all ages and levels, from grassroots sport to the professionals.

This includes better education programmes about how to recognise concussion and stricter adherence to return-to-play guidelines.

The mystery of second impact syndrome

Last month a group of parents in the USA filed a lawsuit against FIFA pushing for rule changes around the return to play following a concussion. They also asked for limits on how many times children under 17 can head the ball.

Dr Grey said: “There is good evidence to suggest heading the ball in children needs to be looked at very closely.

“Children’s brains are not fully formed, they are not as well protected as an adult and we do not fully understand the damage these repeated blows to the head are doing to these children’s brains. We must have more research into this area.”

Prof Belli is concerned that second impact syndrome, in which a person who has had one concussion then has a second blow to the head that is magnified by the first, is not yet fully understood.

He said: “The issue of second impact syndrome is not that well-known but the brain can suffer very serious damage – and the fact people are not heeding that is very worrying.

“We must get the message through in all sports that if a player has had a concussion, they must not play on, as the ramifications of a second blow – even if it looks minor to the observer – could be very grave indeed.”

The Birmingham study is funded by the British Medical Association and is part of the NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre, a national centre for trauma research that takes discoveries from the military frontline to improve outcomes for all patients in the UK.