Sideline assessment of concussion and return to play – are we practising what we preach?
October 27, 2011 9 Comments
The seventh Rugby Union World Cup competition ended last saturday in a tense final between strong favourites, the famous New Zealand All Blacks, and France, the former holding out for a one-point win 8-7 over Les Bleues.
The game featured a number of injuries, but one caused more of a stir than most – the injury to the French number 10 Morgan Parra.
Parra took what appeared to be an accidental blow to the side of his head from the knee of All Blacks’ Captain Richie McCaw in a ruck, and appeared to be visibly concussed, looking shaky on getting up after receiving lengthy on-field medical attention. The incident can be seen in this video.
He was taken from the field of play and replaced by Trinh-Duc. Surprisingly, however, he re-appeared on the field after around 5 minutes and continued to play on for another 5 minutes until he experienced another knock during a tackle and eventually went off for good.
The circumstances surrounding his departure from the field in the first instance appear to be a little unclear. Parra thought that he had gone off for a blood injury, which would fit with him being allowed back onto the pitch later on in the absence of having suffered a concussive injury. Of course, there is no ‘concussion bin’ to allow time for observation and recovery prior to return to play. However, there is a ‘blood injury bin’ where players are permitted to have blood injuries attended to prior to return to the field as appropriate. To this viewer, it did appear that Parra had indeed suffered a concussive injury following the blow from McCaw’s knee, in which case it is surprising that he was allowed to re-enter the field of play.
Parra mentioned ‘I was bleeding a bit, I took a knock and I was a bit dazed,’ adding ‘I was trying to get out from under the ruck, I took a knee to the face, it wasn’t when (Ma’a) Nonu tackled me, but afterward. Did he (McCaw) mean it? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the footage. But it wasn’t from Nonu.’
Parra went on to mention ‘I wanted to come back on, but my neck and head were hurting, and then I took another kick to it … that’s how it goes. What can you do? I wasn’t targeted any more than last week. I know that when you play No. 10 and you weigh 80 kilos people go looking for you more.’
What is of great concern is that if Parra was indeed allowed back onto the pitch following a concussive injury, then this would been in direct contravention of the IRB’s own Concussion guidelines which clearly state that ‘Players suspected of having concussion must be removed from play and must not resume play in the match, ‘ and this would have occurred during Rugby’s showcase, the World Cup Final which was watched by record figures of TV viewers worldwide this year. The IRB guidelines are in agreement with the Concussion in Sport Group’s guidelines – see point 2.2 ‘On-field or Sideline Evaluation of Acute Concussion – (e) A player with diagnosed concussion should not be allowed to return to play on the day of injury.’
In the Concussion in Sport group’s guidelines, there is a caveat that adult athletes, in some settings, may return to play more rapidly providing certain conditions and a level of support may be met, but that there should still be the same management principles for return to play, starting with complete cognitive and symptom recovery. The issue of the appropriateness of return to play on the same day following an acute concussion is hotly debated, but there is no doubt that it still occurs. However, if Parra was indeed concussed, then return to play in the same match would have been in direct contravention of the IRB’s own Concussion guidelines.
Those of us who manage head injuries and concussion at the pitchside are well aware of the many difficulties of translating concussion guidelines into practice, especially when players get up and run off in the middle of assessments and such, but if Parra was indeed concussed, then surely he should never have been allowed back onto the field of play.
The Rugby Law blog was particularly vociferous on these events.
For those interested in the topic of Concussion in Sport, don’t miss the chance to view the recent Ovid Webcast with Margot Putukian and John D. Corrigan here.
Have you had problems and issues with interpreting and applying concussion guidelines to clinical practice?
CJSM would like to hear your experiences and opinions.