Going to head-to-head with concussion

Let's tackle misconceptions

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As a journalist, Andrew Swain (Bachelor of Journalism ’07) doesn’t often have difficulty telling a story, but a 2013 incident on the rugby field took away more than just his words. 

“The only thing I can remember from the day is sitting on the side of the field with a drink bottle in my hand, wondering where I was and what had happened,” he said.

Swain (pictured right), who had been playing sub-districts rugby for some time, had suffered a worrying head injury during play that left him shaken and confused with short-term memory loss.  

It was a feeling that shocked the normally astute and energetic 34-year-old who works as a sports commentator with Fox Sports. 

“It’s an injury that temporarily changes who you are and what you’re like to be around,” Swain said.

“The month after being concussed is terrible — you can’t sleep, you have headaches, you’re incredibly irritable and unpleasant to be around. 

“These injuries affect your work and personal life but often lack the obvious physical markers of other sporting injuries.”

Swain has recently joined UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) as an Ambassador for the 2018 #nobrainnogame campaign to help raise awareness of concussions and their symptoms and treatment.

A concussion occurs when an action or blow to a person causes the brain to move inside the head and collide with the skull, which can result in neuron damage and brain bruising.

Concussions are the most common form of brain injury, affecting approximately 42 million people worldwide each year. 

The #nobrainnogame campaign highlights the importance of investing in research to better treat and manage the condition, rather than seeking to change the nature of contact sport. 

It also aims to recruit sports players for an Australian-first longitudinal study that tracks players in the days and weeks following a concussion.  

As an ambassador, Swain said that it was important people understood that concussion is a physical injury. 

“The non-visible nature of concussion means that it is misunderstood as an injury — even while you cannot see it, it is still a physical injury,” he said. 

“Because of this, there needs to be greater awareness around concussion and protocols need to be developed and readily available for players.

“It’s hard to know how much time to give yourself to recover, it’s a very hard injury to manage particularly at grassroots level where help isn’t always readily available.”

The UQ alumnus, who credits his success in journalism with the education and practical work opportunities he had at UQ, has been using his experience to help others on the job as well. 

“I work primarily for Fox but also provide some work in commentary for Channel 7, and every weekend I’m out on amateur grounds covering first grade rugby,” he said.

“I’ve been on the field and seen these guys who have been injured and there’s this attitude that they should keep playing, because people who haven’t been concussed often don’t recognise the symptoms.

“As someone who has experienced concussion I can tell when someone else is suffering.”

Swain said it was attitudes towards the injury that needed to change and not the sport.

“The whole tough persona around concussion needs to be dropped,” he said.

“If a player has been knocked out, then continues to play it’s not brave, it’s stupid.

“No one expects players to play with a busted arm or knee and they should not be expected to do so with a head injury.”

Swain encouraged others to sign up to participate in the study or support the research. 

“Please sign up and support the research and work that QBI is doing,” he said. 

“I think we just need to be smart in how we manage the injuries; they will always happen in sport. 

“The sport shouldn’t have to change, just our response to injuries. 

“We need to have procedures in place to protect the player and we can develop these through research.”

You too can support the important research that QBI conducts to help address concussion recovery, and other neurological disorders by volunteering for the study or making a donation below. 

Hear more about concussion research

UQ engineering student and former AFL player Justin Clarke’s sporting career ended at just 22-years of age after a head injury during training. Now in spite of ongoing concussion symptoms, Clarke is completing a degree in aerospace engineering and is using his experience to help others as an ambassador for the Queensland Brain Institute’s concussion research campaign. He discusses adjusting to life after the injury, common misconceptions about concussion and why the research QBI is conducting is so important on the latest episode of the UQ ChangeMakers podcast that you can listen to below.

Through research, we can improve the diagnosis and management of concussion.