Loris Karius’ situation further highlights need to break concussion stereotype

By Will Moulton

“Charlie, she’s showing signs of concussion.”

As both a viewer of medical drama Casualty and someone who has had six concussions, this is a frustrating throwaway line.

Coming after the shortest examination possible – with no proper tests or checks – the doctor comes to this conclusion seemingly based on guesswork as the patient is unable to speak. And what does “showing signs of concussion” even mean?

There was no follow up to this line either, both in terms of explanation or treatment, for the rest of the episode, making it just seem as though the writers had thrown in a line to fit an allocated quota.

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Casualty is a programme that normally informatively depicts a whole host of ailments – including the fairly rare Ehler-Danlos Syndrome (a version of which it is believed I suffer with) – so to see them brush off concussion and make it seem trivial was disappointing.

But all too often this happens in reality as well.

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The problem is that concussion is surrounded by a stigma it is struggling to detach itself from. Many see it as one of the ‘nicer’ injuries to receive, others portray it as a rationalisation for inadequacy rather than a problem in its own right, something that is currently evident in football.

Following his horrendous performance in the Champions League final, it is being suggested that Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius picked up a concussion during the game that could have negatively impacted on his performance and possibly led to his two howlers.

Whether he did or did not suffer the injury is not the issue though; it’s the way this story has been spun. It initially read as though the concussion is being used purely as a reason to cover up his mistakes, something social media has been very quick to pounce upon.

As someone who has both been affected and has seen others suffer, this is really disheartening. Furthermore it’s ignorant and very, very worrying that these archaic views still exist on what is a serious subject.

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Concussion is so much more than just an explanation for poor performance. Although rarely overly serious on its own, it can be incredibly debilitating. In some cases even the most menial of everyday tasks can become too difficult to complete.

It might seem like the perfect excuse for a couple of days off work, but it really isn’t. Concussion is horrible.

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So why, if it is such an issue and so common (around 80 million Americans alone are thought to have had the injury in their lifetime), is concussion so often depicted as just something that can be cured with a couple of paracetamol and a good night’s sleep?

One simple reason is that it is an invisible injury. It’s not like a broken bone or a torn ACL – someone with concussion can appear completely normal on the outside but be really suffering internally. Unless you’ve had one, it’s difficult to understand just how horrendous concussion is.

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Even then the level and type of affliction is very individual, varying on a case-by-case basis. Concussion is not simply a case of confusion following a period of unconsciousness as is so often depicted. The list of symptoms associated with it is lengthy and they can occur in all sorts of combinations. Headaches, blurred vision, increased bright light and loud noise sensitivity, irritability, slurred speech, short and long-term memory loss are to name just a few.

Furthermore, these symptoms don’t always develop straight away – sometimes concussion can take days to materialise.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the misconceptions is that no-one really knows what concussion is.

The NHS describe it as a ‘temporary injury to the brain’ while according to Healthline it is a ‘mild traumatic brain injury’ but that’s about as detailed as it gets. In their defence, however, the brain is so complex and so intricate that we barely understand it when it’s working normally, let alone when it’s dysfunctional.

One thing that researchers and medical professionals are becoming acutely more aware of though is the long-term implications of multiple concussions. The most notable case here was the 2013 lawsuit where the NFL agreed to pay $765m to more than 18,000 American Footballers at risk of developing the incurable neurodegenerative disease Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) thanks to multiple concussions sustained throughout their careers.

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Furthermore the family of former footballer Jeff Astle have done tremendous work in highlighting the severe long-term impacts of numerous minor brain injuries such as concussion, while many sports have visibly improved their concussion protocols in recent years.

And yet despite all this the sport of football – be it some of those reporting on it, some of its fans and indeed perhaps Liverpool themselves – still seems to be stuck in the dark ages when it comes to the case of Loris Karius. And not for the first time.

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It has been heartening to see in recent days however that some articles highlighting the seriousness of concussion have been produced, including a great online piece by David Preece for inews.co.uk, suggesting that there are people out there trying to break down the barriers.

Whether or not Karius picked up the concussion that evening we will never truly know but, instead of ridiculing him, we should be sympathising with him and hoping he makes a full recovery. No-one intentionally makes mistakes and no-one deserves to suffer an injury to the brain.

Football is only a game. An individual’s health is far more important.

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