Aviva Premiership and Championship Rugby Players Part of Ground-breaking Head Concussion Study

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Saracens v London Wasps - Aviva Premiership
WATFORD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04: Alistair Hargreaves of Saracens leaves the pitch concussed a second time during the Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and London Wasps at Vicarage Road on November 4, 2012 in Watford, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Rugby players from Aviva Premiership and Greene King IPA Championship are to take part in a major study led by the University of Birmingham, as part of its work to develop a ground-breaking head concussion study to diagnose concussion and brain injury (in relation to rugby union).

Premiership Rugby, the RFU and Rugby Players Association, in a combined media release, announced that the study will run throughout the 2017/18 rugby season and is the biggest of its kind to take place in the history of UK sport.

Players Part of Ground-breaking Head Concussion Study

It is a key element in the University of Birmingham’s research programme to create a test that can be performed rapidly pitch-side and will determine whether a player has been concussed. The study is part of the University of Birmingham’s REpetitive COncussion in Sport (RECOS) project.

This study follows on from one conducted by the University of Otago, New Zealand. In that experiment, Dr. Danielle Salmon, from the University School of Physical Education and Exercise Sciences and her team placed small ‘acceleromitors’ behind the ear of players. That was to measure the force and gravity of tackle impact. With support from New Zealand Rugby and World Rugby, the hope was to understand better the forces involved and how better to understand player health and welfare.

That was performed over the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup season, so with the latest data from the UK College of Medical and Dental Sciences associates to be collected across the Premiership/Championship season, all rugby fans will hope that the combined wealth of knowledge will lead to a better understanding across all regions.

The team at the University’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences, led by neurosurgeon Professor Tony Belli, has spent the last nine years carrying out UK-based research which has led to the development of a test that measures bio-markers present in the saliva and urine of players. The test, if validated, could be done on a hand-held device, which is currently under development.

Improved Ability to Diagnose Concussion is the Goal

Professor Belli said: “Early and accurate diagnosis of concussion is one of the biggest challenges we face clinically and is particularly a major concern in the sporting world.

“The University of Birmingham recently made a significant breakthrough[i] after identifying molecules, which can be found in saliva and act as biomarkers to indicate whether the brain has suffered injury.

“In this exciting next study with the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA, we will collect players’ saliva and urine pre and post-injury, which we will then test in the laboratory in order to assess the reliability of these bio-markers.

“If these bio-markers are found reliable, we can continue our work with industrial partners with the hope to have a device available within the next two years.”

“One which will instantaneously diagnose concussion on the pitch-side with the same accuracy as in the laboratory – a major step forward for both sport and medicine.”

Full Support of Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players Association

Premiership Rugby Head of Elite Performance and Player Development, Corin Palmer said, “Premiership Rugby is committed to putting our clubs and players at the front and centre of what we do, and player welfare is our number one priority. This research has the potential to impact positively on the way in which we assess and manage concussion and as such as we are  keen to give it our full support.

“All Premiership Rugby clubs and players are already taking part in the preparatory stages of the research ahead of the new season, and we look forward to seeing the results of Professor Belli’s work.”

The Rugby Players’ Association’s Richard Bryan said, “The RPA Players’ Board has given its full support to this vital research study [Ground-breaking Head Concussion Study] that we hope will be a significant development for the future of concussion diagnosis.

This forms part of the RPA’s ongoing commitment to work collaboratively with the RFU and Premiership Rugby to ensure that the game continues to make advances in concussion education, research and management for the well being of all players.”

HIA Assessment Used for Ground-breaking Head Concussion Study

The RFU/Prem Rugby media release stated that players participating in the study will provide saliva and urine samples to act as a base-line benchmark. During a match, players with confirmed or suspected concussion will provide saliva samples immediately following injury.

Players will also provide follow-up saliva samples, as well as urine samples, as they go through the return to play protocol. These will be compared to the baseline benchmarks, plus those from players from the same game who did not suffer head injury, and those who had other injuries. If there are no Head Injury Assessments (HIAs) or confirmed concussions in a match, then no samples will be collected.

This ground-breaking head concussion study across Premiership and Championship rugby will run alongside the existing HIA off field screen that will be for a fixed period of ten minutes. This study replaces the King-Devick research project that was conducted last season. The King-Devick results are currently being analysed and the aim is to publish the findings following scientific peer review.

Premiership Rugby Programs Supported by Research

Premiership Rugby runs more than 90 local and national community rugby programs. Each season Prem Rugby and its clubs; working together with players, coaches and impressive list of private, public and third sector partners, they invest over £3.3million in a variety of community programs under the Play and BreakThru campaigns.

These aim to grow grassroots participation and tackle core issues – such as player welfare, injury reduction, and improvements in the game.

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NOTE: To further its commitment to player welfare best practice, SANZAAR confirm that it has urgently reinforced World Rugby’s Head Injury Assessment (HIA) protocols to all teams, medical staff and match officials involved in The Rugby Championship.

This action followed an incident involving suspicion that Sonny Bill Williams may have suffered an injury which was not assessed. The subsequent investigation found no further action was needed, but it highlights that at International, as we ll as leading European [Aviva Premiership] and domestic [Mitre 10 Cup] levels, the subject is of major significance, and all research will go to advance the benefits from ground-breaking head concussion study

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