Concussed rugby players being put at risk, say experts

Thu Nov 7, 2013 1:32pm EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Rugby players with brain damage are regularly being sent back onto the field of play because the sport's governing bodies are not taking concussion seriously enough, medical experts said on Thursday.

The long-term risks of this could be higher rates of dementia, major depression and other neurodegenerative conditions later in life, the experts said, with evidence of such problems already being found among American football players who suffer similar rates of knocks to the head.

Barry O'Driscoll, a former International Rugby Board medical advisor who spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a Rugby Football Union (RFU) conference on concussion, said he was in no doubt that injured players were going back into a dangerous environment.

"We are sending concussed players back onto the field - brain damaged players," he said.

"We know now what's going on in the brain as soon as it is hit. The glucose metabolism, the oxygen uptake, the electrolytes ... are all thrown completely out. This is a brain in disarray. It's not functioning properly. The decision making is reduced, the cognitive function is reduced, and the emotions are thrown. What an earth is a person in that state going back onto the rugby field for?"

O'Driscoll resigned from the IRB last year in protest at the board's attitude to concussion.

Martin Raftery, chief medical officer for the IRB, defended its position, saying the recent introduction of the Pitchside Suspected Concussion Assessment (PSCA) showed a commitment to player welfare.

"Ultimately the message to players, coaches and parents at all levels of the game is to recognize the symptoms of concussion and remove the player permanently from the training or playing field," he said in a statement ahead of the IRB's medical commission conference, due to start in Dublin, Ireland, next week.   Continued...

Hong Kong players form a scrum during their HSBC Asian 5 Nations rugby match against South Korea in Hong Kong April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip