Rugby Safety How Sports Science Aids in Mitigating Concussion Risks

“Two decades ago, only two criteria were used to diagnose concussions. Jon Patricios, a sports and exercise medicine physician and co-lead author of the latest international consensus statement on concussion in sport, discusses the science of head injuries and some of the protocols adopted by World Rugby to enhance player safety.

What is Concussion?

Concussion is a traumatic brain injury resulting from a force transmitted to the brain, leading to functional changes in brain operation. Typically, no structural changes in the brain are visible on scans. Instead, medical professionals focus on assessing changes in brain function as the key indicator.

Recognizing Concussion Signs:

Obvious signs include loss of consciousness, seizures, disorientation, inability to walk, or poor coordination. In the past, a loss of consciousness or amnesia were the sole criteria for diagnosing a concussion. Today, over 20 criteria, including irritability, nausea, concentration difficulties, emotional changes, and heart rate, are considered. Biomarkers, like blood or saliva tests, are being researched and may become available within the next five years.

Less Obvious Signs:

Subtle signs include changes in movement, physical symptoms (headaches and nausea), balance issues, emotional changes, anxiety, concentration problems, and autonomic function disruptions (e.g., heart rate). A systematic approach and understanding the player’s baseline are essential to detect these changes.

Responding to a Player Knocked Out:

Prioritize player safety by ensuring open airways, normal breathing, and adequate circulation (ABC of emergency medicine). Check for other serious injuries, like neck injuries, and move the player to a safer medical environment for evaluation.

Post-Injury Evaluation and Rest:

Conduct systematic evaluations and monitor recovery over time. Long rest periods may be necessary depending on the severity of the injury. Some players benefit from relative rest and gradually introduced exercise within 72 hours.

Do the Rules Improve Safety?

Rule changes aim to enhance concussion identification and player safety. Players must go through specific processes before returning to the field, with documentation and medical clearance. While concussions can never be entirely eliminated from collision sports, increased safety awareness and evidence-based protocols are making the game safer than ever.”


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