Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Four Corner's "Hard knocks" - concussion under the spotlight

(Photos: ABC Four Corners - Monday 14th May 2012)
The ABC's Four Corners last night revealed further evidence of Australia's tendency to resist the harsh reality: that its favourite sports and the way they're allowed to operate have grave consequences for all its participants.

After the neurosurgeon in the programme, Bob Cantu from Boston University explained that...

...‘concussion is violent shaking of the brain; and in the brain every instance that the head is hit, there are two different accelerations that happen. One is a straight line acceleration – we call that linear or translational, and it stretches the neuron, the brain cell, it stretches its connection, the axon; and the other is a rotational force – the spinning of the head. That not only stretches, but it twists, and it’s a greater tension or strain on the nerve tissue, and essentially what’s happening is you’re stretching and straining the nerve cell and the nerve fibres themselves,’... can be left in any doubt that this matter is very serious and Australia ought to take note...TODAY.

Sadly the whole programme was a tragic call to arms, and with his usual clinical precision, Kerry O’Brien was spot on when he concluded...

...‘for those who might look to headgear for protection that might prevent some injury, it doesn’t do much to stop the movement of the brain inside the skull, which is what causes concussion’...

...the very same premise which many conscientious objectors raise against Australia's bicycle helmet laws (aka helmets provide no proven protection against the 'rotational-brain' injury sustained from an oblique impact).

In my opinion the reason we have been so slow to come on board with any acknowledgement of the incidences of catastrophic football head injuries is because there are many vested interests, and no-one attached to the industry wants to take the bit between its teeth, and address this huge and menacing elephant in their cosy little club room.

Football is ‘BIG’ money, and any game-change terrifies its ‘bean-counters’.’

No doubt Australian public money will be thrown at this issue but hopefully Kerry O’Brien’s final comment has stymied the all-too predictable trend in Australia for ‘recourse-to-head-gear’ in order to make something safe.


  1. This is the thing about bike helmet laws - there are many things that are as dangerous as, or more dangerous than, riding a bike. Driving a car is one. Walking around in a big city is another. Playing a collision sport is another in a big way. The cops, who enforce the bike helmet laws, travel around in patrol cars and participate in high speed chases. They don't have to wear helmets, and yet what is more dangerous - conducting a high speed chase after a stolen vehicle, or riding your bike around to the milk bar to pick up a paper? Firemen, ambulance drivers, paramedics - they all go belting through the city streets at speed, running red lights, without being obliged to wear a helmet.

    Humans participate in a wide variety of activities that carry a greater or lesser degree of risk. And yet only one of these activities has been plucked out of the hat as compulsory-helmet-worthy.

  2. Couldn't agree with you more,Scott! - but we need our legislators to take these sentiments on board and make/or not make as the case may be, laws to reflect a sensible reality

  3. As kids we heard about the huge numbers of footballers in hospital every saturday. I knew and heard of teenagers whos football head injuries were life changing and had to leave school and go into the workforce early. At that time the only bike rider who came to grief had broken legs. To us head injuries were associated with football.
    Having said that last year there were articles in US papers about the influence of their football helmets on head injuries and the lesser incidences of Australian rules head injuries were cited. There were questions raised as to getting rid of them altogether so I am surprised that anyone has raised the question at all in Australia and glad Kerry said what he did at the end of the program.
    A bit more comparison between the American and Australian experiences could raise a public discussion about helmet risk-compensation which would be very helpful with the MHL problem.