Detecting concussion: The RFU make breakthrough in HIA testing

It’s rare to find a rugby player go down on the field of play as if they’re competing for an Academy Award; as applaudable as this is, players persistence to play through an injury can have devastating effects in the long run.

Although it’s good to see sportsmen and women wanting to continue at all costs, rather than looking more qualified than Tom Daley to compete in the 10-metre platform, risks of head injuries to the likes of George North raise serious health concerns for players in a sport with as much contact as rugby.

To detect the severity of head injuries has forever been questioned in the game. A player going off for a head injury assessment during play has sometimes led to inaccurate conclusions, hence the development of technology used by clubs such as Saracens for the X2 Biosystems.

Image Source: Sports Think Tank


The technology which players wore to detect the blow to a head is useful for assessing how many knocks a player is suffering and then using the data after a game to examine the amount of damage suffered.

However, the RFU are now using a more instant form of testing which will enable medical staff to conclude whether a player has seriously damaged themselves there and then during play.

Research at the University of Birmingham has concluded that there is evidence in players saliva which can detect whether a player has suffered concussion during a collision.

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

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

— Tony Belli, neurosurgeon professor who is leading the study

The testing will be used during the 2017/18 campaign for both the Premiership and Championship with every player providing a urine sample before the season so that the molecules can be compared with the saliva samples.

Hopefully, it is a major breakthrough for the concerns over head injuries so that families of players can reduce the risk of visiting their loved ones with serious brain damage in the future.


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