Editorial: Concussion in sport needs to be tackled

Last updated 12:43 12/05/2014

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OPINION: Concussion is something not to be taken lightly.

The old adage in rugby of "toughen up, mate" has long since passed, fortunately.

It's been highlighted over the last year in particular with a focus, not just at professional rugby level with the NZRU, but in the United States where former American football players are being studied to see what lasting damage has been caused by head knocks.

In New Zealand, it's been highlighted with the concussion issues All Black Kieran Read has been going through the past few weeks. He has suffered two concussions and was pulled from the team to play the Reds over the weekend as a precaution.

Last year 1773 rugby-related ACC claims were made with a primary diagnosis of concussion or brain injury. This number had increased from 1503 in 2011. The code with the second highest number of claims was rugby league at 389. This is a worrying trend and needs to be investigated as to the reasons why.

In the US the annual incidence of sports-related concussion is estimated at 300,000. Estimates regarding the likelihood of an athlete in a contact sport experiencing a concussion may be as high as 19 per cent a season.

There are solutions at hand. The latest research out of Sweden sought to determine whether sports-related concussion can be tracked by biochemical markers in the blood. The study of 288 players in the top professional ice hockey league in Sweden saw 35 players concussed during the season. Concussed players underwent repeated blood sampling, which continued after they returned to play. Results showed that concussed players had increased levels of a certain protein in the blood. The highest biomarker concentrations were measured immediately after a concussion and they decreased during rehabilitation.

This would enable players like Read to play again after having a simple blood test.

But what about at the grassroots level? Smaller unions, such as Tasman, are taking the issue very seriously. With Leon MacDonald in their coaching ranks that should come as no surprise. MacDonald, who played 56 tests for the All Blacks, was concussed numerous times during his career and one such incident ended his playing days.

The Tasman Rugby Union wants to form a partnership with a medical organisation to help manufacture and distribute a wallet-sized card with a clear six-step guide to recognise and deal with incidences of concussion. The union hopes that every parent, player, coach and manager will have the card by the end of the month. The union is to be congratulated on its initiative.

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Everyone knows concussion is an issue in sport and it's good to see it being addressed at grassroots level. That's where the majority of players are and those with the least amount of medical support.

Now, we have to try and minimise it happening in the first place. That can only happen with good education.

- Nelson

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