Safety plan launched to reduce sports head injuries

Head injuries in sport can range from mild concussion, cuts and abrasions, to life threatening or life changing brain injuries. Unfortunately, it can often be very difficult to claim compensation for a head injury or claim for a brain injury following an incident during contact sport.

Players in high-contact sports such as rugby, football and boxing are among those most likely to sustain head injuries, but participants in other recreational activities including skiing and horse riding may also be at risk. Skiing injury claims and horse riding injury claims often have a better chance of success, as an instructor or venue is more likely to owe participants a duty of care than a fellow player.

The risks of sports-related head injury

Repeat concussions have been associated with poor verbal fluency, memory loss and depression among former American football players, and it is believed there may also be a link to other degenerative brain conditions such as Parkinson's disease and dementia in later life.

With brain injury compensation settlements for 18,000 former American football players topping $1billion in the USA, and with a duty of care to protect its players, the National Football League (NFL) has launched new initiatives to find solutions to the ever-growing problem of brain and head injuries in the sport.

Last year 692 players were diagnosed with concussion and whilst some of this rise in numbers may be attributed to increased knowledge of head injuries and a better ability to identify concussions during play clearly the situation needs to be addressed.

The NFL's proactive measures include investing $60m in improving helmets and a further $40m in neuroscience funding. 

This follows the NFL's earlier investment of $20m to co-sponsor a research challenge with 3 companies who developed:

  • An impact-absorbing helmet
  • A rubberised tether that slows the speed that a head snaps back after a collision
  • A cushion for artificial turf

How will this new technology help to reduce head injuries?

This new technology is focussed on improving player safety and reducing the number of life-altering head injuries sustained in the sport.

Although all American football players already wear helmets during play, it appears that these only prevent skull fractures and do not mitigate the risk of concussion. The new style helmets' shock-absorbing capabilities aim to reduce the incidences of concussion.

The rubberised tether is anchored to a player's body under his football shirt and attached to his chin. The tether, made from an elastic force resisting material, works as a resistant brace to prevent the head being snapped back.

Cushioning under artificial turf may help to reduce the impact if a player hits his head on the pitch

What is being done to reduce concussion risks in UK sport?

Parallels have been drawn between American football and other high contact sports such as rugby union and rugby league.

With a reported 59% rise in the number of concussions sustained while playing rugby, concerns have been raised about the long term effects, with a link being found between repeat concussions and mild cognitive impairment in young adult rugby players.

English rugby has already introduced major changes in the way concussion is managed in the professional game with all players, coaches and officials now required to pass an online module focussing on awareness, management in games and 'return to play' protocol. Those who do not comply risk fines or even suspension.

Concussions account for an eighth of all rugby injuries in the UK, with 13% of players experiencing some degree of concussion in 2015; with the biggest risk of sustaining concussion being during the tackle

Further changes could be introduced to the tackle laws to help reduce the risk of concussion, but although these were voiced by the World Rugby chief medical officer in September 2015 it appears that little change has been made.

Sports-related injury claims can sometimes be difficult to pursue. If you have been injured during a contact sport, as a result of another party's negligence, and you believe their conduct has breached the standard expected of players, you may be eligible to claim.