Understanding and Managing Sport-Related Concussion in Primary Care

The importance of the global emphasis on physical activity for health cannot be understated. However, it is crucial to address one of the adverse effects of contact sports—specifically, sport-related concussions. Sport-Related Concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a direct blow to the head, neck, or body resulting in an impulsive force being transmitted to the brain.

Sport-Related Concussion can present with a wide range of signs and symptoms, and can affect a person’s thinking, concentration, memory, mood, and behaviour. These incidents are common and account for a significant number of emergency department visits. They also have some long-term risks, including cognitive and neurological problems.

Recent publications, like the consensus statement from the Concussion In Sport Group and the UK Government’s landmark concussion guidance, offer valuable insights in the management of Sport-Related Concussion. This blog – based on our recent article in the British Journal of General Practice – aims to provide guidance on recognising, diagnosing, and managing Sport-Related Concussion within the context of primary care.

 The Changing Landscape of Sport-Related Concussion

In 2016, over 1% of emergency department visits in England and Wales were attributed to concussions. Up to 60% of these involved children and adolescents. A 2021 UK House of Commons report criticised the current awareness level about Sport-Related Concussion in the UK’s NHS, indicating a need for better recording and treatment procedures.

 Recognising Sport-Related Concussion

Symptoms of Sport-Related Concussion can range from cognitive issues to mood changes. Anyone with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from the field of play and assessed by an appropriate healthcare professional within 24 hours of the injury. Those working in sport will be aware of specialist assessment tools pertaining to individual sports that aid clinicians when diagnosing concussion. The UK Government guidance provides a list of ‘red flags’ that require immediate assessment.

Once Sport-Related Concussion has been recognised or diagnosed, a short period (24–48 hours) of relative rest is advised, where only light-intensity physical activity that does not, or only minimally, exacerbates symptoms is undertaken. Subsequently, a logical graduated return to school/work and then sport can be started, where progression through stages is dependent on minimal and transient (the CSIG advise <1 hour) exacerbation of symptoms.

Sport-specific assessment tools exist for diagnosing concussion, such as the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT6). These tools are most effective within 72 hours of the injury and evaluate symptoms, cognitive function, and coordination.

 Managing Sport-Related Concussion in Primary Care

Primary care doctors play an essential role in managing Sport-Related Concussion. Initial management includes:

– Advising a short period of relative rest (24-48 hours)

– Reducing screen time and cognitive load

– No alcohol, solitary time, or driving within the first 24 hours

Patients with persistent symptoms beyond 28 days should be referred for a more comprehensive assessment. Gradual return to normal activities is advised, strictly adhering to symptom-dependent progress.

Challenges and Future Directions

The NHS’s limited specialist services for treating complex or prolonged sport-related concussion symptoms create a care gap. This could be bridged by experts in sports medicine or primary care doctors with extended roles in sports medicine. Emerging technologies like Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) in mouthguards and salivary micro-RNA samples show promise for better recognition and understanding of sport-related concussion.


Sport-Related Concussion is important. Effective recognition and management by general practitioners can significantly contribute to an individual’s immediate and long-term health. It is also vital for local commissioners to implement appropriate care pathways for managing this condition. By acknowledging the complexities in management and investing in ongoing research, we can create a healthcare system that supports both the benefits of physical activity and the challenges it can sometimes bring.