A Hutt Hospital emergency department nurse is hoping his ground breaking research will help people better understand concussion.
Using small monitors in mouth guards and behind players' ears, Doug King is collecting data on the number and intensity of impacts players suffer in tackles.
After each game, he downloads the information and carries out a series of tests to see if players show signs of concussion.
Last year he ran the study with the Hutt Old Boys Marist rugby club and found 19 unrecognised cases of concussion.
This year he has teamed up with Te Aroha rugby league under 11s and premiers.
The study coincides with increasing concerns about the long term impact of head knocks sustained in contact sport.
All Black Kieran Read is currently battling with concussion. In the US, research on American Football players identified a link between concussion and dementia.
The admission from rugby league great Ian Roberts that he is suffering memory loss resulting from concussion has had a big impact on the sport in Australia.
King believes there is a lot more head knocks in league and rugby than people realise.
It is not just head high tackles or players hitting a knee or hip that are of concern, he says. Any blow to the head can damage the brain.
The implications of his research could be far reaching. American Football players with dementia are taking legal action seeking financial compensation. It is clear that on-field concussion is not always recognised, King says.
Back up tests, involving players who come off the field being asked to remember numbers, provides another way of diagnosing concussion and if a player fails the test, he can be referred for medical advice.
The $30,000 research project is funded by Auckland University of Technology.
On Saturday, Te Aroha played Randwick and tests after the game showed all Te Aroha players came through unscathed.
Te Aroha coach Powhaitere Keelan says the club is right behind the study.
At club level league is an amateur game and player safety is the priority.
The sport is very physical and players inevitably suffer head knocks, Keelan says.
"Players have families to go home to and most of them work. They need to protect their livelihood."
Randwick coach Daniel McEwan said anything that increases our understanding of the effects of injuries "is a good thing". "There is a lot we don't know about concussion."
King says there is a common misunderstanding about head gear some players wear. That stops cauliflower ears and head cuts but is completely useless for stopping concussion, he says.
It is the same with mouth guards, which protect teeth but not the brain.
King already has one PhD and is using his research as he studies for another.
Next year he will focus on female league and rugby players. They often do not have the back, neck and shoulder muscle strength of males, he says, making them more susceptible to "rotational" injuries because their head is not as stable.
King's ultimate goal is to produce a test that can check on the health of every player after a game.
- Hutt News
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