Saturday 20 January 2018

Dangers of head injuries not to be taken lightly

While all the talk this week is of the General Election campaign, the Six Nations has been a welcome distraction and support for the Irish rugby team is one of the few things that has actually attracted cross-party support.

A hard-fought draw against Wales has been warmly welcomed considering the number of injuries the national side had in the lead up to the game.

But much of the sporting discussion this week has surrounded Keith Earls and the 'will he/won't he' debate over whether he line out against France this weekend.

It follows a suspected concussion suffered during the opening minutes of the Welsh game and coach Joe Schmidt says the Munster star is now a serious doubt. We all want to see Earls back in green this weekend but concussion is not to be taken lightly, after all it's a traumatic brain injury resulting in temporary impairment of brain function.

Earls underwent a Head Injury Assessment on the sidelines - as did Tommy O'Donnell - and while it was initially believed that he had passed, a stumble a few minutes later raised alarm bells.

Meanwhile, former Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll has this week raised concerns over former team mate Jonathan Sexton

Sexton has suffered several knocks in recent games and has been tested for concussion. It's believed to be linked to the out-half's high tackling technique which results in a greater change of head-on-head collisions.

The issue has also been highlighted across the Irish Sea, as a new report from the English RFU claims that players with head injuries are being rushed back into action.

Unfortunately, concussion is part and parcel of the modern game which is becoming increasingly professionalised as player fitness and sheer physical size increase in tandem.

Rugby's medical protocols are strict though, particularly concerning head injuries, and Earls will follow the return to play rules to prove his fitness ahead of the Stade de France game.

The IRFU also has a detailed guide to educate players, coaches, officials and parents at all levels of the sport on the dangers of concussion and how to recognise it, detailing the various stages which include: stop, inform, rest and return.

Discussion on head injuries is a hot topic in all sports at the moment and follows the recent release of Will Smith's new movie 'Concussion'. The film is based on the story of forensic pathologist Dr Bennet Omalu's discovery of Alzheimer's-like symptoms in the brains of former American Football players.

In recent interviews Smith says he believes players who receive repeated knocks to the head are in danger of developing long-term brain damage. He's no expert of course but his mass appeal means that people are finally sitting up and taking notice of the dangers of head injuries in sport.

But it's not just high-contact sports such as Rugby or American Football that are affected, it's a problem in all sports and only last week a story on an Irish radio station detailed a professional soccer player who was unable to remember large chunks of games after heading the ball repeatedly.

It's an issue that is gathering momentum and further investigation into the effects of concussion is needed - and might just attract cross party support in the process.

Wexford People

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