Five-minute concussion test under review

2014-01-07 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The International Rugby Council (IRC) may put in place more guidelines to prevent players suspected of suffering from concussion returning to the pitch.

In terms of current experimental protocol, a rugby player can rejoin a match if he or she passes a five-minute cognitive test.

The IRC’s experimental protocol has decreased from 56% to 13% the players who played with suspected concussion. But the acknowledgment that one head injury is one too many has led to the IRC now considering doubling the time of the test.

Sport24 has learned that an IRC task team is of the opinion that five minutes is too short to make an accurate diagnosis and now proposes a 10-minute test.

The IRC has admitted in a recent discussion document that repeated concussion can lead to dementia. This follows studies that showed boxers develop neurological problems over the long term.

Research in the U.S. has shown that concussion causes long-term neurological problems among American football players.

The U.S. study formed the basis for a class action lawsuit by thousands of former players and their families and the National Football League had to pay $765 million (about R8 billion) in damages to the players.

A source quoted in the Mail on Sunday said it seems that the IRC has awoken to the new findings and that its fear of similar legal action has prompted the IRC to now consult scient­ists.

The IRC said its guidelines are up to date with the 2012 Zurich Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport, which was reached at the fourth international conference on head injuries in sport.

It said it had announced last year, directly after the series between Australia and the British and Irish Lions, that it would review the five-minute test. This followed an incident in the series in which the Wallaby loose forward George Smith was sent back into the fray despite still appearing groggy from concussion after a head-to-head collision with Lions hooker Richard Hibbard.

Rob Andrew, who organised a task team on concussion for the English Rugby Union, also wants to extend the test from five to 10 minutes.

Dr Bob Cantu of the Boston University and Barry O’Driscoll, a former medical adviser of the IRC, said there is no scientific basis to limit the cognitive test to five minutes.

O’Driscoll resigned in 2012 because of his doubts concerning the “five-minute rule”.

“There can be long-term consequences if concussion is wrongly managed,” said Cantu, who was reportedly among the scientists approached by the IRC.

“The ‘five-minute test’ is a good start, but it is not sufficient.”

The Scottish Rugby Union is opposing the IRC’s plan to deploy the “five-minute test” in the next Six Nation series.

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