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New first in concussion treatment in Wellington

Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014

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Wellington is ground zero for combating the trauma of concussion, as experts say doctors are relying on little more than "witchcraft" to treat dazed rugby and league players.

In a first for New Zealand, everyone from GPs to referees in Wellington will be equipped with a universal test for detecting and responding to on-field brain trauma.

It comes amid growing concern about the long-term impact on concussion. In the past week, several Super Rugby players have been ruled out of play after big hits to the head. Last month Australian rugby league great Ian Roberts revealed he has suffered permanent brain damage from his head knocks.

Dr Paul Quigley, emergency medicine specialist at Capital & Coast District Health Board, said he was bracing for a winter influx of concussed rugby players stumbling into the emergency department.

"In the winter season, the corridors are full of them. We will often see them more than once."

He likened concussion treatment to "witchcraft", with inconsistent advice and people often sent back to work and sport too soon.

Concussed workers were often confused and irritable, while players sent back too soon were more likely to suffer serious long-term damage in another hit.

"This isn't a trivial thing," Quigley said. "Concussed people lose their jobs because they end up arguing with the boss."

He and Hutt Valley emergency nurse Doug King have developed the guide to treating concussion, which can be used on sidelines, the back of an ambulance, or an emergency department.

King has been battling for better treatment of sports concussion for years and this week published an article outlining the risk of permanent brain damage or even dementia from repeated head trauma.

He hoped the guide would help everyone "sing from the same song sheet".

"At the the moment you have some people saying these are serious symptoms, while others will say, ‘you're fine, off you go'."

He has been testing the new system with rugby clubs already, and picked up 17 concussions that were not otherwise detected.

The test involves suspected concussion victims memorising pictures, reading a series of numbers at increasing speeds, and being asking questions about how they feel.

How each person scores in the test will determine treatment, and whether they need time off work or sport.

The guide will be rolled out over the rugby season.

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- The Dominion Post


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