GAA needs to improve head injury protocols, UCC study finds

GAA needs to improve head injury protocols, UCC study finds

The study, led by two medical students at UCC, used video analysis techniques usually applied to professional soccer to investigate the incidence and assessment of Potential Concussive Events (PCE's) during the 2018 and 2019 Inter-county Gaelic football seasons. File Picture: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

A new study is calling on the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) to improve the way in which they assess and treat head injuries.

The study, led by two medical students at UCC, used video analysis techniques usually applied to professional soccer to investigate the incidence and assessment of Potential Concussive Events (PCE's) during the 2018 and 2019 Inter-county Gaelic football seasons.

The study found that the majority of immediate assessments of PCE’s were 8 minutes shorter than the 10-minute standardised assessment length recommended for use by the international sporting bodies, and by the GAA itself.

In recent years, sport-related concussion has become a major health concern.

Scientists, health officials, and league administrators in sports such as American football, rugby, Aussie rules, ice hockey and boxing have all introduced integrated strategies seeking to address the issue of concussions, and to reduce their severity and incidence rate. 

Accurate diagnoses and assessment of injury play a major role in this.

For the UCC, study, two reviewers watched 111 gaelic football matches and identified all PCEs - defined as any event in which a player was unable to resume play in a meaningful capacity within five seconds of a direct and visible head contact. 

Each event was then analysed to determine whether an assessment occurred, the duration of that assessment, subsequent return-to-play decision, and visible signs of concussion.

While most players were assessed, the majority - some 88.6% - of assessment lasted less than two minutes.

The standardised assessment recommended for use by the GAA and international bodies takes at least 10 minutes to perform. 

In addition, players were rarely removed from play following a PCE, even when signs of concussion were present. 

The researchers say the study shows how assessment of PCEs in elite men’s Gaelic football may not always be in accordance with best practice, which may be placing players at risk. 

The authors are recommending the GAA take action to improve the identification and management of head injury, through strategies such as sideline video analysis, external concussion spotters, and concussion substitution rules.

Commenting on the research, Senior Lecturer UCC and Consultant in Emergency Medicine, at Cork University Hospital Prof Conor Deasy said the study would "focus attention on concussion" and "create a needed discussion around its identification and management to enhance player welfare."

He said: "Just as face-guards on hurling helmets have reduced eye and other facial injuries, we now need to turn our attention more closely to head strikes and identifying players who may need more in-depth clinical assessment during games and appropriate management of their concussion in the weeks after”.

UCC student at School of Medicine, Department of Medicine Mario P Rotundo said: “Historically in many sports, the culture of injury is to ‘shake it off’ and get back out there because your teammates are depending on you. 

"There’s a beauty in that; it’s about self-sacrifice and selflessness. But with concussion it’s different. 

There’s a dark side to it. It’s a severe injury that you can’t see on a player like a cut or a bruise.  

"But now the science shows us what was really happening to our brains and how dangerous it can be. 

"We need to start paying more attention to concussion, and that’s why we did this study,” he added.

The study is believed to be the first of its kind undertaken in the context of the GAA, and the researches hope that this new information will encourage a collaborative effort from the GAA, team doctors, managers, players, and other stakeholders to facilitate increased concussion awareness.

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