Widespread concussion check move

Rugby officials are considering ensuring every concussed player receives a medical clearance before playing again.

The move comes as New Zealand Rugby wants to improve monitoring of players at all levels with concussion injuries.

"We want everyone to feel that their head injury is as important as the next person and the person before them," NZR medical director Ian Murphy said.

"We want to follow them closely enough to feel safe that they are safely returning to the game, not just that they’re doing a three-week stand-down because it says three weeks."

NZY wanted "a monitoring process around their care from the moment they are injured and we ensure they get a doctor’s clearance before they return".

Dr Murphy said top players such as All Blacks Ben Smith and Dane Coles — both of who took extensive breaks from the game this year to recover from concussions — were critical role models for rugby players at all levels.

"To see a Ben Smith, to see a Dane Coles, take time out to get themselves right and not rush back is very helpful."

Around 35,000 head injuries are suffered in New Zealand annually, Accident Compensation Corporation statistics show.

Of those, 21% occurred during sport;  rugby being one of the leading contributors to that figure.

The Otago Daily Times reported yesterday on  initiatives to be introduced  by NZR at all levels of rugby in Otago next season to reduced  head injuries.

If they prove a success, they will be used nationwide.

The University of Otago has been an active testing ground for concussion research, including a recent study in which provincial players were fitted with sensors during matches to measure head impacts.

One of the scientists behind that study, Danielle Salmon,  has been hired by NZR as a research officer as part of its efforts to reduce head injuries.

Dr Murphy said he had not seen any data from the university  research. 

"But I would like to think that if I haven’t heard anything at this stage that we haven’t got some alarming finding which requires urgent attention."

As well as expanding concussion monitoring to all levels of rugby, Dr Murphy  hoped NZR would increase awareness of its "Head First" player welfare programme to all rugby players.

"That programme reflects a broader look at injury prevention," he said.

"We are seeing some really positive stories and recognising issues and helping players and also raising performance as we go, because we know players who are having challenges in this space are generally not performing as well as they or you would like."

The key was to take the lessons learned from the professional game and extend them into the community, he said.


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