Call for headgear in rugby as five boys treated for concussion

Five school rugby players were taken to hospital with suspected concussions in the same 24-hour period in the Munster area on Tuesday.

Three of the boys were playing in a Junior Cup match between Presentation Brothers College, Cork, and St Munchin’s College, Limerick.

Another two players from St Clement’s College, Limerick, also had to be taken to hospital on Tuesdayafter sustaining impact injuries in a Junior Cup game against Castletroy College.

All five are junior players are understood to be recovering.

This spate of injuries follows another one last week, where an 18-year-old playing in a senior game between St Clement’s College and Crescent College Comprehensive, was taken to hospital for a suspected brain injury.

While there were calls made yesterday for headgear to be made compulsory, at a minimum with forward-line players, IRFU medical director Rod McLoughlin told the Irish Examiner that there was no scientific evidence to say headgear protected against concussion.

“At the moment, there is not any evidence showing that headgear provides any protection in terms of concussion,” he said.

He added that the IRFU has taken several steps to promote player safety at junior and senior school level in recent months.

“It was mandatory for a participating junior or senior schools team to send a coach or a medic to one of our concussion education talks in January,” he said.

They also changed their interpretation of laws, specifically focusing on player safety, last September so there was a “lowering of the tolerance around high tackles and increasing the penalty for foul in these areas”, said Mr McLoughlin.

Paediatric neurologist Dr Niamh Lynch, who runs a weekly concussion clinic for children at the Bon Secour, said concussion happens because of the brain hitting off the skull and that parents cannot wrap their children up in cotton wool.

“Concussion happens because of impact — so if you’re running and you come into a collision or to a stop, and the force of that is enough to make a brain hit against the skull. The brain keeps going forward even though you’ve stopped, it keeps going forward until it hits the skull,” said Dr Lynch.

Impacts can happen through a collision with the body, a clash of heads or a blow to the head if a person fell off a bike or a swing.

“My big message to parents is that you can’t wrap your child in cotton wool, the most important thing is to recognise that they are concussed and help them get back to baseline,” the paediatric neurologist explained.

While she said she did not see either of the games or the suspected injuries being sustained she said it was positive that there was such awareness of concussion in the sport at that level.

“I’m not a rugby expert but I doubt sincerely that five years ago that such an injury would have been taken seriously enough for treatment to be sought immediately. The taking of a player off, that’s a good news story,” said Dr Lynch.

She said roughly 50% of the children she sees at her weekly clinic have been “nowhere near a sports pitch”.

Rules for dealing with concussion

  • For people involved in Rugby Union in Ireland there are several rules and regulations for a suspected concussion.
  • The player must be immediately removed from activity and must not return.
  • The player must not be left alone.
  • The player must not drive a vehicle.
  • The player must always be in the care of a responsible adult, who is informed of the player’s suspected concussion.
  • The player should be medically assessed as soon as possible.
  • For U6s to U20s, there is a minimum timeout of 23 days.
  • For adults, there is a minimum timeout of 21 days.
  • After the assessment and adhering to the designated rest period, there is a return-to-play protocol that is followed.
  • Light aerobic exercise is first introduced, then rugby-specific exercises and then followed by non-contact training drills.
  • Then following medical clearance, full contact play can be engaged in.
  • Then there is another rest period followed by a return to play.
  • Symptoms can include a loss of consciousness, irritability, headaches and balance problems.

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