Should Athletes Who Suffer Concussive Head Injuries Be Allowed to Continue Playing?

According to neuropathologist, Dr Stewart, he’s discovered the first officially diagnosed case of early onset dementia in a rugby player. From his findings, Dr Stewart predicts that between one and two players, who compete at the Six Nations each year, will experience this mental condition in later life.

Punch Drunk

The ex rugby player in question had greater levels of abnormal proteins (considered a cause of dementia) than a former amateur boxer that has been diagnosed with dementia pugilistica (otherwise known as ‘punch drunk syndrome’). It’s believed that this condition affects 20% of boxers who have thrown in the towel, after a long career in the brutal sport.

Between twelve and sixteen years after a boxer’s career commences, symptoms begin to appear, such as diminished memory, speech and personality issues, tremors and a loss of coordination.

Head Injuries

Where boxers are concerned, this is no new news – dementia pugilistica has been acknowledged for more than 100 years and is usually caused by repeated punches to the face.

But this level of mental damage is now being recognised ever widely in contact sports, such as American football, ice hockey, and now rugby.

The rugby player analysed by Dr Stewart displays the same neurological damage as a young man who has been assaulted and has sustained a moderate to severe head injury. Dr Stewart says that rugby players are at a lower risk of head injuries than other sports, where it is commonplace to repeatedly suffer from concussions (American Football and boxing, for example). But rugby is in no way immune from this medical condition, due to its physical nature.

Looking To The Future

No-one can say for sure how many knocks to the head athletes can sustain before they will develop a serious neurological condition like this. 1% of international rugby players are estimated to go on and develop long-term issues. Not only are there medical implications for this, but in the long term, there could be heavy legal ramifications, as we’re already seeing in the USA with the extremely risky American Football matches.

All sports are responsible for reducing the risk of head injuries. If an athlete suffers from concussion, they should take a large break from the sport. If it’s suspected that a player has potentially become concussed, they should be removed from the game immediately. There could be a second head injury and this could really exacerbate the problem.

More often than not, players will try to play-on. This needs to be stopped and discouraged in the same way that playing with a leg injury would be. The brain is more important. Now that the first case of rugby-related early onset dementia has been confirmed, many people will be looking out for similar cases in the near future. Doctors will become more aware of the dangers of contact sports.

Composed by Barlow Robbins, head injury claim specialists