With the profound and long-lasting medical consequences of concussion becoming increasingly evident, Saracens Rugby Club has joined other sports organisations in adopting measures to protect the health of their players.
Eleven players from Saracens Rugby Club wore “impact sensors” during their Premiership victory over rival club London Irish on 3 January 2014. The sensors, akin to those worn inside the helmets of NFL players in America, use a gyroscope and accelerometer to measure the size and angle of hits to the head. They will be worn by all Saracens players in future matches and training sessions in order to provide extensive data for medical analysis of concussion injuries in rugby. Currently, data from the sensors has to be downloaded once the player has left the field, but the hope is that the monitoring system can be developed so that a real-time assessment of blows to the head can be made during matches, allowing players with suspected concussion to be instantly removed from the game.
Premiership Rugby, World Rugby and the Rugby Football Union have all expressed interest in the results of Saracens’ experiment and it seems likely that, if successful, the technology will become widely adopted across the sport. Indeed, if conclusive results are obtained, it is a measure that could be adopted in any sport where participants are at risk of concussion.
Sports such as football and rugby are certainly already alive to the issues surrounding concussion, and Saracens’ measures follow a series of new protocols issued by each sport within the last year. The Premier League implemented its new Concussion Protocol for the start of the 2014/15 season, giving the final say as to whether a player be removed from the field when a head injury is suffered (whether in training or in a match) to the club doctor or medical practitioner. A Tunnel Doctor must also be present at all matches in order to help recognise signs of concussion and all medical staff must carry a “Concussion Recognition Tool”. There is also a requirement for players to undergo an annual baseline neurological test, similar to those already implemented in NFL and Rugby Union.
Meanwhile, World Rugby has introduced its Head Injury Assessment protocol which includes a 10 minute assessment period during which any player with suspected concussion may be examined.
Changes have also been made in rugby’s other discipline – the Rugby Football League’s new laws, approved at a meeting of the Rugby League Council on 11 December 2014 now allow teams a “free” interchange when a player is withdrawn for a concussion assessment, with the hope that encouraging such assessments will serve to safeguard players.
Accordingly, whilst there may be some way to go in ensuring the long-term health of sporting participants who suffer concussion, it is important to note that clubs and governing bodies are taking action proactively, rather than in reaction to serious injury.