Village Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Shellharbour

What is Concussion?

Is a person only concussed if they get knocked out during a game of football? Is it when someone has hit their head and tells you they are seeing stars? What happens if a player does get a concussion? Are they allowed to return to the field of play?


The term concussion is used to describe a mild brain injury which is usually non life-threatening and caused by trauma to the head. It can occur by means of a direct force (eg. head hitting the ground, collision, punch) or indirect force (eg. whiplash injury).

Signs and symptoms that a person who has been involved in a high impact even and may have a concussion:
  • loss of consciousness
  • lying motionless/non responsive
  • headache
  • nausea or feel like vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • balance problems
  • dizziness
  • reporting that they blacked out
  • feeling dazed, seeing stars, feeling foggy
  • difficulty remembering, concentrating or appear confused

Rugby League, Australian Rules and Rugby Union have different guidelines regarding concussion testing and management. But generally, the consensus is the same. If a player has experienced a concussion, they are not allowed to return to the field of play. A person’s symptoms may fluctuate over a period of minutes to hours. It is therefore essential to monitor the player for any decline, even if their symptoms appear to have completely resolved. They MUST be referred to a medical doctor such as a GP or at the emergency department at hospital for further assessment.

In between sustaining the injury and going to the doctor it is important that the player:

  • Avoids driving – you do not know if the player is going to decline suddenly, causing an accident.
  • Does not take any medication (such as aspirin, anti-inflammatories or pain-killers) until given the all clear by the doctor.
  • Does not drink any alcohol.
  • Have minimal sips of water only.
  • The player needs to be monitored closely for any decline in function.
  • Encouraged to avoid sleeping or having a nap.

A medical clearance is needed by the doctor to enable return to training, and return to competition. Returning to exercise should be slowly progressed in intensity with 24 hours rest in between each stage to monitor for a decline in health. An example of a return to exercise program is shown below:

  • daily activities such as walking, swimming, walking in water, cycling.
  • light fitness and non-contact training.
  • increase in fitness intensity and gym.
  • contact training.
  • return to sport.

If a person experiences any increase in symptoms, they need to rest for 24 hours and then return to the previous step. The recovery process varies from person to person and may take 1-4 weeks!

Did you know?
  • A person experiencing a concussion should also get a medical clearance to return to work/school!
  • There is no definitive scientific evidence that wearing helmets prevent concussion or other brain injuries in rugby union or AFL. They do help for minor facial lacerations and returning to play following fractures.