Researcher questions reliance on pitchside concussion assessments

A leading medical expert on concussion in sport has cast doubts on rugby’s current reliance on Pitch Side Concussion Assessments (PSCAs) to determine whether players suspected of taking blows to the head should be removed from play.

Dr Michael Turner is the founder of the International Concussion & Head Injury Research Foundation (ICHIRF), a research initiative established to examine the long-term effects of concussion on those who have competed in contact sports.

With 40 years of sports medicine experience in skiing, horse-racing, and tennis, Dr Turner is also a member of the International Concussion in Sport Consensus group and a co-author of the landmark 2012 Zurich Concussion Consensus Statement.

“Each sport has got to address their own situation and in rugby, a lot of it has been focused on the pitchside assessment and dealing with that,” he said. “That is a very heated area about how quickly you go back, how you diagnose it. Do you have eye-in-the-sky? Do you have video people?”

He stressed while speaking in Croke Park yesterday that it was not his role, nor that of the ICHIRF, to tell sporting organisations what to do regarding their approaches to concussion, but to gather the statistical information from which informed decisions can be made.

“But I don’t think there is any harm in having that debate, because it focuses the mind of the individual sporting body as to whether they are doing their best,” he added. “If it takes you half an hour to diagnose a jockey with concussion, how can you do it in five minutes pitchside? Or 10 minutes, or 20 minutes? That needs to be a debate that is held out there.”

Dr Turner also cast doubts on the gathering consensus, one gaining particular currency among doctors in the USA, suggesting that sports people who have suffered three concussion in the one calendar year should retire.

That theory has been mentioned in relation to some of high-profile rugby players in Ireland and elsewhere in the recent past, but Dr Turner’s ICHIRF project is aiming to remove opinions from the concussion equation and replace them with facts.

A partnership has been established with the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry which will enable the screening of Irish volunteers among the 1,000 being sought for a project which was launched in London in January as a fully independent study.

The project’s brief is a simple one: to establish beyond doubt whether retired sportsmen and sportswomen have an increased incidence of neuro-degenerative disorders ranging from mild dementia to Motor Neuron Disease. The study will be open to all sports, but is initially concentrating on retired British, Irish, and French jockeys due to the high incidence of concussion in horse racing: a jockey is 125 times more likely to suffer one than an American football player. Initial volunteers include Richard Dunwoody, AP McCoy, Peter Scudamore, John Francome, and Stan Mellor. Funding and other support has been received from the Injured Jockeys Fund and the NFL, among others. 


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