Rugby is a beloved sport and national pastime in the United Kingdom that also comes with an elevated risk of concussion. The reason for the increased risk is that rugby is a full-body contact sport that subjects players’ heads to collision with other players and the rugby field. Although it is unlikely the problem of concussion in rugby will ever go away, players and coaches can reduce the risk by taking several proactive measurements.
School children and university students who play rugby must receive instruction from parents and coaches that they are to report the symptoms of a suspected concussion right away. Parents must work in cooperation with schools regarding the management of the student’s concussion to ensure that they do not return to the playing field too soon. Coaches of adult rugby teams should encourage their team members to report a suspected concussion that occurs in practice, during a game, or while not playing rugby.
Attitude and Behaviour Matters
Players should warm up before every game and mentally prepare themselves for the physical contact they will have with members of the opposing team. As part of pre-game preparation, players should focus on actions and movements they will encounter during competition that could lead to experiencing a concussion in rugby.
Coaches should also implement an injury prevention programme that focuses on developing confidence in tackling before the start of each rugby game. Rewarding safe playing behaviour with verbal acknowledgments and extra privileges is an effective way to encourage all members of the rugby team to become safety-conscious while playing with confidence.
Players should learn not to tackle another player too early, too late, or with excessive force. Tackles that occur above the shoulder line are particularly dangerous, as are tackles that occur when a player’s feet are not on the ground. Kicks should never occur when players are holding the ball between their hands.
Both coaches and players need to be mindful of their aggression and keep it in check. While rugby is a physical and high-contact sport, taking an extremely aggressive attitude onto the field increases the likelihood of serious injuries, including concussions.
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion in Rugby
Because concussion is an internal injury to the brain, it can be difficult for coaches and other players to know if a team member has sustained one. The fact that not all symptoms appear right away can complicate matters. However, a player who displays even a few of these symptoms may have just experienced a brain injury:
- Balance problems
- Behaviour appears to be in slow motion
- Blurry vision
- Change in personality
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to noise and/or light
- Memory issues
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Player appears stunned or dazed
- Severe headache
Even when players insist they are fine, it is the coach’s responsibility to sit them out for the rest of the game if they have even the slightest concern about concussion. On-site medical staff should evaluate any player with concussion symptoms right away and refer the injured person to their regular doctor for prompt follow-up.
Unfortunately, concussion in rugby can still occur even with excellent precautions. Concussed players must receive immediate medical attention for any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness, no matter how brief
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in an arm or leg
- Significant irritability or agitation
- Slurred speech
- Unable to recognize familiar people or places
- Worsening headaches
The most important thing to keep in mind with concussed players is that prompt evaluation and treatment leads to better long-term outcomes than ignoring the symptoms and hoping they will go away.