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Is the increase in reported concussions in rugby due to greater awareness?

Minster Law

The 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is now in full swing, but as we cheer on our national teams, we can’t forget the startling – and also concerning – statistics that highlight a 59% increase in the number of reported concussions in English rugby in 2013-14 compared to the previous season.

The England Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project (PRISP), which has reported on injury risk since 2002 and is the most comprehensive dataset in Professional Rugby Union, provides objective analysis of trends in injury risk in the English sport. The latest report from February 2015 recorded 86 cases of concussion in 2013-14 – 32 more than the season before. The audit also highlights that 91% of reported concussions occurred in match play, while nine per cent occurred in training.

Rugby’s governing bodies believe that this increase is due to an improved understanding of head injuries as well as behavioural change among players, medical staff, coaches and referees as a result of RFU, PRL, RPA and World Rugby education initiatives and media exposure since 2012.

Unfortunately it’s true that concussion in sport, and particularly concussion in rugby, has been a major focus of the press over the past few months as a result of a number of high profile incidents in the sport. George North continued to play on for Wales after appearing to be knocked out during a game against England in February, and more recently Conor Murray was removed from a match in September after suffering a concussion – reportedly his third in the past year.

The audit also goes on to suggest that concussion has historically been under-reported in rugby union, so it remains to be seen whether the concussion incidence reported for 2013-14 represents a true reflection of concussion risk, or whether under-reporting is still a problem.

Minster Law is passionate about raising awareness of concussion in sport and the issue of under-reporting concussion was debated at its Concussion in Sport Today (CIST) event earlier this year. Some of the event’s key speakers including former RFU player David Jackson and Consultant Neuropsychologist Dr Steven Kemp acknowledged that many players deny concussion symptoms through fear that they will have to quit the sport they love. However, the news that World Rugby is appointing medical experts in concussion ahead of the 2015 RWC is being welcomed by all as a positive step in moving away from an over-reliance on professional players admitting their symptoms.

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