the Springbok Captain Eben Etzebeth and his All Black counterpart Beauden
Barret, have in common? Both were in the news for suffering from concussion in
the past month. Add to that the names of Warren Whitely, Martin du Toit, Poerie
van Rooyen and Jaco Coetzee – who have all had to leave the rugby field for
some time in October after getting a hard bump to the head. And earlier this
year the rugby career of Maties captain Beyers de Villiers was cut short after he was also
diagnosed with serious concussion.
That is why the creation of
the Advanced Concussion Unit at the Institute for Sport and Exercise Medicine
(ISEM) holds good news not only for rugby players, but all other contact
sports, including hockey and boxing, where players often suffer a blow to the
“Ninety-nine per cent of
concussions heal perfectly,” says Dr Pierre Viviers, Senior Director of the SU
Campus Health Services (CHS), who is also involved with ISEM. According to
Pierre the risk is low as long as the evidence are being followed. “But if you
suspect a concussion, the player must be removed from the field.”
Pierre often helps at
international games as one of five medical doctors who must decide whether a
player suffered a blow that could mean concussion and should leave the field.
With his colleagues at CHS they also do a lot of social impact work, such as
helping out at the recent Klapmuts Sevens Tournament, to help with the
treatment of injuries such as concussion.
It is this ‘suspect and
remove’ principle that will hopefully get a big push in the next year when
Pierre and his colleague Prof Wayne Derman, director of ISEM, will make a big
effort to empower coaches – from schools’ level – with better training in
recognising and managing concussion.
A concussion programme was
introduced at the University in 2003 already, with recreational and more
professional players benefiting. “We see between 300 and 350 concussions per
year. This gives us access to very valuable research information.” The Advanced
Concussion Unit will use this type of information to understand and manages
this potentially very dangerous state even better. The Unit does not only want
to improve determining the physiological recovery of players, but also put
concussion treatment modalities in place to shorten the timeline of more
complicated injuries. Several overseas universities (Washington in the USA,
Calgary in Canada and Bath in the UK) have already indicated that they would
like to form part of the research effort.
According to Pierre
concussions are very dangerous among teenagers and adolescents, where the brain
is still growing. “Players are often back on the field too soon. If they then
suffer from another concussion, it’s not a new injury, but an existing one that
is worsened.” And often the knowledge to manage concussions safely lack on
school and club level.
Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director of
Transformation and Social Impact says Pierre – and Prof Wayne Derman – show
that research can have a wider impact, also on the different communities around
us. “By doing what we do daily we can have a positive effect on the lives of
sport stars and young upcoming athletes.”