Concussion is the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to the sport of rugby union.
Over the past number of years, we have seen an increase in the number of players who have had prolonged periods out of the game as they recover from the symptoms and effects associated with suffering from a head injury.
On a positive note, awareness around the issue has increased and thankfully instances whereby a player failed to be removed from the field of play after suffering a head knock is decreasing.
Nevertheless, it remains one of the biggest talking points in the sport and rightly so. The Head Injury Assessment (HIA) process is heavily backed by World Rugby but in many medical quarters, it is deemed inadequate to truly diagnose a concussion during a match.
However, there may be improvements in this regard as both the English Premiership and Championship leagues will be trialling a new methodology to determine concussion this season.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham have found a link between brain trauma and molecules found in saliva and urine. The test measures the changes in biological markers (biomarkers) in a players’ saliva and urine in response to head trauma.
Professor Tony Belli of the University of Birmingham’s REpetitive COncussion in Sport (RECOS) project had this to say about the trial:
“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 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 biomarkers.
“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.”
The test will be carried out at every single Premiership and Championship game this season with each player across all teams to have offered a baseline sample before the start of the season. Urine samples take longer for biomarkers to materialise so saliva samples will be used during games.
Ultimately, if the trial is successful, there could be a situation where players who have a suspected concussion could spit into a hand-held device which will indicate within minutes whether the player has suffered a brain injury.