Concerns rise over rugby concussion risk
Category: Northern Ireland
Published: 19th May 2012 02:04:21
Irish international rugby player John Fogarty was shocked when doctors advised him to retire from the sport.
He had never gone under the surgeon's knife during his entire 11-year professional career and had made his international debut for Ireland only a year before.
But he had been suffering repeated concussions.
For a while he had been able to manage the splitting headaches, memory loss, light sensitivity and trouble sleeping.
But he was tired and irritable, and got annoyed for no reason with his wife and young daughter.
It wasn't just the times he had been knocked out that had affected him. It was also the smaller "bangs" to the head that he didn't even realise were concussions.
He started to worry when, a few months after retiring in 2010, he was still getting headaches, having emotional difficulties and experiencing memory loss - a result, he believes, of two concussions in his final match for Leinster against Treviso.
"I started really worrying about my brain. After maybe three or four months it settled but the symptoms didn't all go away."
Now research from the US into the long-term effect of repeated concussions on athletes playing collision sports is shedding new light on a sports injury about which relatively little is known.
Rugby's governing bodies are keen to stress the differences between their sport and those played in America.
I started really worrying about my brain ”
However the news that repeated head impact has led to a form of dementia in a small group of American football and ice hockey players prompted former Scottish international, John Beattie, to become the first rugby player to promise to donate his brain to neuroscience.
The research by scientists at Boston University revealed that a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) had been found in the brains of 30 former NFL players. Prior to death, their symptoms had been the same found in boxers suffering from CTE's more widely known name, punch drunk syndrome.
It's a form of progressive dementia with symptoms including memory loss, depression, speech problems, mood changes and trouble walking.
Dr Bob Cantu, a professor of neurosurgery at Boston University and one of the drivers of the research, said he is certain athletes from sports outside American football have also developed CTE.
"We've studied brains of deceased NFL players and National Hockey League players," he said.
"In the brains of both, we've found CTE and I would be amazed if we did not find the same in rugby players, or at least some rugby players who played rugby for a long period of time and had taken quite a bit of head trauma over the course of their careers."
However, since no work has yet been done to examine rugby players' brains after death, there is no hard evidence for his claim.
British neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart is one expert who urges caution.
Dark spots show tau protein - which is found in the brains of dementia sufferers
He said the brains of every American footballer who died would need to be studied to get an idea of the prevalence of CTE, and cited studies that show that only between 10-20% of boxers who have taken heavy head punishment develop symptoms.
"It would seem quite remarkable if repeatedly injuring the brain in some way at a low level didn't leave you with some sort of damage," he said.
"But if we followed the research from the US word for word, we would expect whole swathes of rugby players to be clogging up nursing homes, but they aren't."
Bodies including the International Rugby Board, Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) are taking the issue seriously and say they have already adopted new measures and are trying to educate medical staff and players at all levels of the game about concussion management.
According to the RFU, concussion is the fourth most common injury in the English professional game, with five instances per 1,000 hours of play. Among amateurs it's slightly less. But those figures assume that players are aware of all concussion symptoms and are reporting them.
The RFU's head of sport medicine, Dr Simon Kemp, said measures to identify and treat concussions are improving every year.
"The thesis is, if you manage the acute concussion well, your risks of a bad outcome in the long term are a lot less.
"Players are warriors, they don't want to leave the field and assessing someone's cognition, balance and symptoms in the middle of a game is difficult. You rely on the player being honest in reporting his symptoms."
Another former Leinster and Ireland player, Bernard Jackman, admits he often failed to report symptoms of concussion when he was playing.
He suffered more than 20 concussions in his final three seasons before retiring and sometimes had to watch the match back on video the day after because he couldn't remember the score.
"The more concussions I had the more chance there will be of suffering from a brain-related disease or disorder later on in my life, but what can I do now? It's done. I'm not suffering any symptoms at the moment. I put it at the back of my mind."
At 13:57:08 in SportNorthern Ireland medal hopefuls Aileen Reid, Sycerika McMahon, Madeline Perry and Lisa Kearney will be among the athletes in action in Thursday's first day of Commonwealth Games competition.
At 13:54:23 in PoliticsDavid Cameron is under fire over a £160,000 donation to the Conservative Party from the wife of a former member of President Putin's government.
At 13:53:57 in ScotlandA man who went on the rampage in a stolen bin lorry, trying to ram police cars and crashing into a bridge, has been jailed for four months.
At 13:51:27 in Northern IrelandA County Antrim man has avoided prison for breaking into an Alliance Party office with an axe and crowbar.
At 13:49:08 in Northern IrelandSocial Development Minister Nelson McCausland has denied misleading his department's oversight committee.
At 13:41:02 in TechnologyThe BBC is using the Commonwealth Games to experiment with new ways of delivering TV coverage of live events.
At 13:39:20 in EnglandWelfare tribunal cases are having to be heard in hotel rooms to help tackle a backlog in Leicester.
At 13:37:34 in ScotlandScottish shops struggled in June after a promising early spell of warm weather, according to industry figures.
At 13:34:13 in SportGalatasaray have entered the race to sign Cardiff City's Chilean star Gary Medel.
At 13:33:28 in WalesA vote to find the most special location in Wales has been launched by the National Trust.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Concerns rise over rugby concussion risk [Online] (Updated 19th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1429594/Concerns-rise-over-rugby-concussion-risk [Accessed 23rd Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
Popular Somali musician and member of parliament Saado Ali Warsame has been shot dead.
A vote to find the most special location in Wales has been launched by the National Trust.
The doctor leading the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone is now being treated for the deadly virus, a statement from the presidency has said.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
A man who went on the rampage in a stolen bin lorry, trying to ram police cars and crashing into a bridge, has been jailed for four months.
Welfare tribunal cases are having to be heard in hotel rooms to help tackle a backlog in Leicester.