Concussion in Rugby
Concussions are a type of injury to the brain, specifically termed ‘traumatic brain injury (TBI). These are caused by an impact to the head and, in the case of rugby, this can be players bumping heads in a scrum or being tackled and landing on their head, for example. It is the impact that causes the brain to knock against the inside of the skull, damaging brain tissue and causes changes to the brain itself. Although many concussions are not life threatening right away, there are exceptions where a concussion can lead to severe tearing of brain tissue or bleeding in the brain leading to death. However, incurring concussion, in the long run, can lead to permanent damage and cognitive impairment over time. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ concussion.
In rugby, there are several pieces of equipment to ‘protect’ the players such as mouth guards, and some soft-shell head gear. However, the problem with this is that is there is very little scientific evidence of the efficacy of the gear in effectively stopping the concussion. It is important that where rugby is being played, there are medical personnel who are adept in determining concussion. This cannot be performed by first aiders but often a trained medical doctor – often absent in most instances where rugby is being played.
The International Rugby Board states in its rules that a player who reports or is diagnosed as having a concussion is forced to have a 3-week suspension from all competitions and team practices and training. This is an extremely vital part of the mental health management in the game of rugby as it takes the brain tissue time to heal long after the concussion itself has passed. Players often return back to the game too soon and endure more damage to the already damaged and reconvening tissue.
Many players are misinformed or uneducated on the matter and will themselves underreport their own concussion. Players often lie to medical staff in order not to be on mandatory rest and will go play with concussions.