The Irish Times view on concussion in sport: protect the players

Head injury prevention strategies in rugby should place emphasis on tackling lower-risk body regions

Former Leinster flanker Dominic Ryan recently described with unflinching honesty how concussion brought his career to a premature end. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Former Leinster flanker Dominic Ryan recently described with unflinching honesty how concussion brought his career to a premature end. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

 

The perils of concussion at different levels of sport have been highlighted in recent years. For rugby players, playing at professional or schools level, there is now an awareness of the very real risks of head injury. This newspaper recently published the story of Dominic Ryan, the former Leinster and Leicester flanker, who described with unflinching honesty how concussion brought his career to a premature end. He detailed the worrying symptoms, including severe headaches, flashing white lights, dizziness and nausea that, even with rest and a complete break from sport, would not go away.

In rugby, concussion accounts for about 19 per cent of all injuries to the ball carrier and 43 per cent of all injuries to the tackler.

The most recent data from Ireland comes from the Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) research project, which looked at injury incidence in both the men’s and women’s All Ireland League during the 2017/18 season. It found that concussion, at 6.1 per 1,000 player hours, was the most common injury among male rugby players. Concussion, along with ankle ligament injury, both at 5.1 per 1,000 player hours, were the commonest injuries seen in women.

Meanwhile, the English RFU has just begun a trial to assess the impact of introducing a lower tackle height in elite adult rugby on the incidence of concussion and other injuries.

Researchers from the bioengineering department of Trinity College Dublin have found that tackles made to the lower trunk of the ball carrier’s body (roughly around the pelvis) – as opposed to the upper trunk or upper legs – lead to reduced risk of tacklers requiring a head injury assessment (HIA) for potential concussion.

Head injury prevention strategies should place emphasis on tackling lower-risk body regions such as the lower trunk, as nearly four out of five tackler HIAs are caused by tackles to the upper trunk and upper legs, they suggest.

Ultimately, protection against concussion will come from solid scientific research. Stories such as Ryan’s must become the exception.

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