Second Impact Syndrome – should we be taking head injuries in sport more seriously?

Poor Christoph Kramer can’t remember his World Cup final. In just his second match of the tournament, the German midfielder had a nasty run-in with an Argentinian rival’s shoulder, and was substituted after 30 minutes. On German talk show ZDF Sportstudio last week, Kramer’s teammates revealed what “really” happened.

“It was crazy!”, exclaimed Thomas Müller, who said Kramer called him Gerd (after his fellow Müller, footballing legend and 1970s hair icon) and congratulated him on winning the 1974 final. Philipp Lahm thought everything was fine, until “he tried to take the captain’s armband from me! I thought, what’s going on here?” Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was also unfazed by his teammate’s accident, but knew something wasn’t quite right when “he came up to me and said ‘Hey, Manu, let me play in goal!’”

Very funny, lads. But all joking aside, should Kramer have kept playing at all? Concussion has recently been recognised as potentially far more serious than was previously thought. In particular, attention has been drawn to Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), which can occur when a second concussion (or other head trauma) is suffered before a person has fully recovered from a first. Even a very mild concussion can cause SIS, where the brain swells very quickly to a disastrous level. Some have estimated the fatality rate to be nearly 50%, with severe disability another likely consequence.

Thankfully, UEFA have introduced new measures to allow for better medical examinations during a match, if a player is suspected of suffering a concussion. But is stopping a match for three minutes really the most effective way to prevent dangerous side effects? The head injury charity Headway have pointed out the developing nature of concussion, saying that the symptoms might not be immediately obvious. In light of this, surely it would be safer to remove a player from the pitch as soon as the head injury occurs? SIS can be caused by a minor injury just minutes after the initial concussion happens – when the symptoms might still be invisible. Athletes’ safety has to come first, and UEFA’s rules need to take that step further to make sure we don’t lose any young, talented players to what might seem like just a bump on the head.

[Lauren Cummings – @__laurenC]

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