New research from South Australia on the lasting impact of concussions

Posted 6 months ago by David McManus
Data for sport-related concussions and repeated head trauma is under-reported in Australia. [Source: Neale Cousland via Shutterstock]
Data for sport-related concussions and repeated head trauma is under-reported in Australia. [Source: Neale Cousland via Shutterstock]

A TBI is an alteration in brain function or other brain pathology caused by an external force. New research has offered new insight onto the management of TBI.

Key points:

  • The concussion detection headset is patented by the University of California San Francisco and licensed by medical technology company MindRhythm
  • The most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data found that 2,305 sports-related concussions occurred between 2019 – ‘20
  • Men sustained 70 percent of concussions and more than a third of those hospitalised were young sports people aged 15 – 24 years


New research from the University of South Australia, in association with the University of California San Francisco, found that micro-movements in the brain could determine when a sportsperson is ready to return following a concussion.

Researchers identified brain abnormalities in 81 percent of players inflicted by concussion, signalling sustained injury beyond expected recovery times, in 101 amateur male and female Australian Rules Football players in SA.

These micro-movements — also known as ‘headpulse’ — alterations lasted 14 days beyond concussion symptoms and were bolstered by return-to-play or unsupervised physical activity.

Professor of Exercise at UniSA Science Kevin Norton said that headpulse measures could positively influence current return-to-play protocols.

“Traumatic brain injury inflicts more than 60 million people every year, with a third of these being sports-related,” Prof Norton explained.

“While we know that Australia’s sports sector takes concussions seriously — via considered return-to-play protocols — we also know that objective measures of concussion recovery are not fully established.

“In this research, we used headpulses — a normal measure of brain ‘wobble’ aligned with each heartbeat — to assess any changes in frequency resulting from a concussion.

“We discovered that almost all players who received a concussion had a ‘disconnect’ between their symptoms and the headpulse, such that even when the players said they felt good, the headpulse still showed evidence of brain injury.”


More than 700,000 people in Australia live with an acquired brain injury; the severity of the damage can range from mild to extreme.


While most players felt that they’d recovered 10 – 14 days after their injury, the research showed that some players took up to four weeks to recover and return to normal headpulse patterns.

In Australian Football, when a player suffers a concussion, they must adhere to recovery protocols that involve strict physical and cognitive rest for 24 to 48 hours. After that, they can begin graded independent training and then collaborative training as long as their symptoms do not worsen. Once they have completed their rest period and received medical clearance, the earliest they can return to play is 12 days following the concussion.

The Australian Senate Committee’s report, entitled ‘Concussions and Repeated Head Trauma in Contact Sports,’ released in September, recommended that national sporting associations consider changes to the rules to prevent and reduce head traumas.

The Committee’s report cited the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, which contended that there is ‘currently insufficient evidence to fully understand and determine the long-term impacts of concussion and repeated head trauma.’ Additionally, the RACGP highlighted the need to invest in further clinical research regarding the long-term impacts of head trauma and contact sports.

HeadCheck is an AFL-approved concussion management app that can be used to recognise and assist in the management of any suspected concussion for both adults and children. 

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