An “unacceptably high rate” of inter-county hurlers suspected of having sustained concussion during a game are allowed to resume play without adequate assessment, according to a new medical study.
An analysis of potential concussive events during all inter-county hurling league and championship matches in 2018 and 2019 found only 10 out of 43 players who showed one or more signs of concussion were removed from play.
Researchers from University College Cork’s School of Medicine claim their findings show affirmative action is needed to ensure there is a consistent application of standardised concussion assessment across Gaelic games.
Awareness of sports-related concussion has increased in recent years and led to the GAA introducing guidelines in 2018 which recommend players with suspected concussion be removed immediately from play and medically assessed using a protocol that takes a minimum of 10 minutes to complete.
However, one of the study’s co-authors, Darek Sokol-Randell, said researchers were unable to identify any assessments in line with the protocol from their analysis of 183 potential concussive events during 82 competitive inter-county hurling matches during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The study said that because hurling by its nature was a fast-paced contact sport, that places players at risk of concussion, it was imperative that concussion management guidelines are followed.
It also noted that players who suffer a second head injury before a primary concussion is resolved are at risk of a severe condition called second-impact syndrome which can result in catastrophic brain swelling and even death.
Mr Sokol-Randell said while the phenomenon has never been officially documented in Gaelic games, it is extremely dangerous.
“It is important that players are made aware of these risks and feel reassured by the systems in place to protect them,” he said.
“While it is impossible to eliminate concussion from sports entirely, it is imperative that sporting leagues take measures to optimise the identification, assessment and substitution of athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion.”
The video analysis of suspected concussion incidents found 86.3pc of affected players were assessed by medical personnel.
Of these, 81pc of assessments lasted less than one minute.
However, the study found a strong association between the number of concussion signs and the length of the assessment.
A potentially concussive event (PCE) is defined as any incident where a player is unable to resume play in a meaningful capacity within five seconds of a direct and visible head contact.
Only 7.1pc of players were removed from play following a PCE – a total of 13 players, of which 10 had shown one or more visible signs of concussion.
The analysis shows 25 players suffering a PCE received no assessment before returning to play.
In another finding, five out of seven players visibly bleeding following a PCE were either temporarily or permanently removed from play.
The study noted that a 2017 survey found 54pc of GAA athletes had reported a personal history of concussion with 44pc having experienced a blackout on two or more occasions.
While hurlers were found to be less likely than Gaelic footballers to suffer bleeding as a result of a PCE, due to their use of helmets and faceguards, the study said the perceived reduction in risk could extend to sideline medical staff when it came to assessing and removing players from play.
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