The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported seven years ago that rugby players suffer brain injuries known as concussions more often than any other type of injury. Since that time, the Professional Rugby Union in the United Kingdom has implemented several new strategies to decrease the prevalence and severity of concussion in rugby.
Although most medical professionals consider concussions a mild head injury, that is not always the case. Some rugby players suffer from prolonged post-concussion syndrome long after it appears that the original injury has healed.
Concussions by Any Other Name
Brain injuries that occur when someone sustains a concussion go by several names, including minor head injury, mild head injury, and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Regardless of the term used to describe the injury, a concussion causes a player’s brain matter to shake back and forth inside of the skull. Sports accidents are a leading cause of mild brain injuries, as are falls, automobile accidents, and assaults.
Understanding the Symptoms of Concussion in Rugby
One factor that distinguishes a concussion from a more severe injury is that the person loses consciousness for less than 30 minutes or does not lose consciousness at all. Most people who sustain mTBI also experience post-traumatic amnesia for up to 24 hours after the incident. This term refers to a concussed individual being unable to remember what caused the injury. They may also act confused and display unusual behaviour.
Since only 10 percent of people who suffer a concussion briefly lose consciousness, no one should assume that the head injury is not potentially serious. Team doctors and coaches also need to look for other typical signs of a concussion in rugby, including the following:
- Confusion and inability to process what other people are saying or asking them
- Distorted vision
- Sensitivity to light and sound
These symptoms are normal after a concussion and usually resolve within several weeks. However, people surrounding the injured rugby player must seek immediate help if they notice any of these issues:
- Difficulty regaining consciousness
- Inability to hear out of one or both ears
- Loss of balance when walking
- Severe headache
- Speech difficulties
- Weakness in an arm or leg
- Worsening confusion
People who have sustained a head injury often do not realise what has happened and may not want to go to hospital for an emergency evaluation. A coach or team doctor must insist this take place and accompany the injured player to help answer the doctor’s questions. The medical staff may take X-rays to rule out more severe injury or prescribe pain medication if needed.
What Does Post-Concussion Look Like in an Injured Rugby Player?
Unfortunately, about 10 to 20 percent of people who experience a concussion go on to develop post-concussion syndrome. With this condition, brain-injured people continue to have the symptoms listed above for weeks, months, or even years.
However, new symptoms can develop, and they can also become worse over time. Some people with mTBI even suffer from permanent symptoms. The issues are typically like what they experienced in the first several days after the original head injury. They can also include the following:
- Concentration problems
- Fatigue and sleep disturbances
- Impulsivity and problems with self-control
- Information processing and decision-making struggles
- Mental health challenges, especially depression and anxiety
People who experience these problems for more than a few weeks should see their primary doctor for possible referral to a physical therapist or sports medicine clinic. As the Professional Rugby Union continues to implement player safety changes, the need for such protocols should start to decrease.