Tag Archives: concussion

Premier League set to trial concussion saliva test

A saliva test designed to diagnose concussion is set to be trialled in the Premier League as football authorities agree to action plan on brain health.

A joint action plan on brain health published by the league, along with the Football Association, the EFL and the Professional Footballers’ Association, sets out details of work being done to protect current footballers from concussion and sub-concussive impacts, and to understand why there is an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease among professional footballers compared to the general population.

It confirms the Premier League is funding an academic study to validate a diagnostic tool that uses salivary biomarkers, and it is understood the trial could begin later this season.

Players will provide baseline swabs, then at three further time points following a concussive injury, the plan said. Comparative swabs will be taken from an uninjured player and another player who has suffered a musculoskeletal injury in the same match or training session.

The plan states: “The first phase of this research will be carried out over a three-year period, with interim and final results reviewed jointly by the football stakeholders to inform future concussion protocols.”

It follows the publication of the SCRUM study findings in March, which showed a saliva biomarker tool was able to accurately detect concussion in elite male rugby players.

That study, led by academics at the University of Birmingham, successfully predicted the outcome of head injury assessments (HIAs) in 94 per cent of cases during testing in the 2018-19 Premiership and Championship season.

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Former Leeds Rhinos captain Stevie Ward opens up about the physical and mental battles he has faced as a result of concussion

Researchers from Birmingham said at the time of the study’s publication that the technology behind rapid coronavirus testing could be harnessed to enable biomarker tests to be conducted in-game and provide an objective diagnosis of concussion, alongside existing assessment techniques.

The 2019 FIELD Study, led by academics at Glasgow University, concluded footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population, leading to an increased focus on the management of concussion and the sub-concussive impact of repeated heading in the game.

The FA and FIFA are partnering on the BrainHOPE study which starts next year. That study will also be conducted by Glasgow University, and will analyse the deterioration of cognitive function in former players to understand potential early interventions which could help reduce the risk or speed of developing dementia. The study, which has received £1.2m of funding, will run until the 2024-25 season.

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PFA chief executive Maheta Molango said earlier this year he wants to ‘lead by example’ after pledging to donate his brain to aid research into brain trauma in athletes

The FA is also partnering with the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby to expand the Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic to include retired footballers in 2022.

It will give the ex-players access to specialist clinical services in a bid to proactively manage their brain health after retirement.

Current and former footballers, along with their families, are being consulted over the action plan, with their feedback helping to shape an updated version which will be published before the start of next season.

The English game introduced new limits on higher-force headers in training for the professional and adult game at the start of this season. These were informed partially by a mouthguard trial funded by the Premier League in the latter part of last season.

The plan also confirmed the extension of that trial into the current campaign.

In 2020, the FA published guidance on heading in U18s football, while the FA, Premier League and EFL are all trialling additional permanent concussion substitutes in their competitions.

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‘I’m fighting a battle’ – Stevie Ward on living with concussion

The now-retired former Leeds captain has been battling persistent post-concussion symptoms after suffering two head injuries early in 2020. Watch ‘Stevie Ward – Living With Concussion’ on Sky Sports Main Event and Mix at 5.30pm on Wednesday, or On Demand from 7am

By Marc Bazeley

Last Updated: 16/11/21 7:55pm

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Former Leeds captain Stevie Ward explores the physical and mental battles he has endured since suffering a career-ending head injury

Former Leeds captain Stevie Ward explores the physical and mental battles he has endured since suffering a career-ending head injury

In early February 2020, Stevie Ward seemingly had the world of rugby league at his feet.

Aged 26 and approaching what should have been the peak years of his career, he was already a three-time Super League champion and two-time Challenge Cup winner, on the verge of England recognition and captain of boyhood club Leeds Rhinos.

But little could the second row forward have imagined, when he led the Rhinos out for the first game of the 2020 Super League season at home to Hull FC on February 2, it would be the last time he set foot on a rugby league pitch.

“I took a big bang to the head in the first half and came off with concussion,” Ward recalled. “The weeks and months that followed that game were the hardest in my life.”

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Ward’s family reflect on the impact that concussion has had on his life outside of rugby league
Ward’s family reflect on the impact that concussion has had on his life outside of rugby league

It was the second concussion Ward had suffered in two weeks, having been forced off with a head injury in a pre-season match too. The injuries would ultimately lead to him deciding to announce his retirement from the sport he had dedicated his life to in January of this year.

Concussion has proven life-changing for Ward beyond simply giving up his playing career. Even now, 20 months on, he suffers with debilitating physical symptoms such as migraines, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light and noise.

Those ongoing struggles are among those explored in the documentary Stevie Ward – Living With Concussion – which will be broadcast on Sky Sports Main Event and Mix at 5.30pm on Wednesday, and available via Sky On Demand from 7am – as well as the mental health issues he has had to face.

I’m now retired, but I’m facing a fight just to live a normal day-to-day life.

Stevie Ward

Indeed, as the Covid-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc across the world last March and throwing up challenges for everyone, the former England Academy international was struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts as a result of his injury too.

“I was so low I didn’t know if I even wanted to be here,” Ward said. “A lot of the world didn’t know what to do in this time of the pandemic and I didn’t know what to do with my brain.

“I’m now retired, but I’m facing a fight just to live a normal day-to-day life.”

It is not just Ward who has been affected by this. His parents, Colin and Anne, who were on holiday at the time he suffered what proved to be a career-ending injury, noticed the changes in their son.

The post-concussion symptoms Ward suffers have completely changed the dynamic of his relationship with his partner Natalie too, who explained how helpless they both felt.

“In the early stages, Stevie’s emotional state was really unstable and at the time we didn’t realise that was a common symptom for concussion and brain injury,” Natalie said.

“A lot of things were happening; his memory was getting worse, his capability to make decisions, his mood was so low, and he was disinterested in everything in life.

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Ward’s partner discusses the difficulties he now faces as a result of his brain injury
Ward’s partner discusses the difficulties he now faces as a result of his brain injury

“We were being bombarded with these symptoms and we didn’t know what to do.”

Ward has since been undergoing self-funded treatment with specialists in Harrogate and London, and that treatment and the exercises he does have helped alleviate the symptoms to some extent.

Focusing on his mental health and wellbeing project Mantality, which he started when he was ruled out with an ACL injury in 2016, has helped combat those symptoms too, but there are still issues from what, to many people, can seem like an invisible injury.

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The former Leeds Rhinos captain describes the daily struggles he experiences during a trip back to Headingley
The former Leeds Rhinos captain describes the daily struggles he experiences during a trip back to Headingley

“I think a lot of people struggle to get their head around it,” Ward said. “I think people think ‘he looks all right’.

“I’m fighting a battle; my version of a battle is not playing any more or throwing myself into tackles or doing 50 tackles again. It’s going out trying to build Mantality, and help people who are struggling. I feel like I want to do that and smash it, but I’m even held back doing that.

“I’m at a place of acceptance. I’ve probably found the ultimately resilience and it’s probably counter-intuitive because we push all life to achieve, achieve, achieve, to get bigger, to get faster and stronger.

“But, in reality, I’ve had to surrender to where I’m at. I’ve had to stop and allow myself to be happy despite what’s happening in my brain.”

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Ward opens up about his plans for the future after retiring from rugby league at the age of 27
Ward opens up about his plans for the future after retiring from rugby league at the age of 27

The extent to which Ward continues to suffer with symptoms was underlined when he returned to Headingley in August to watch Leeds face Huddersfield Giants.

It was his first game as a spectator since suffering the injury, but he had to leave during the first half due to symptoms flaring up.

Despite what happened, he remains passionate about rugby league and holds no malice towards the sport, instead wanting to ensure that reforms are made to ensure no other players have to go through what he has.

We need to find a balance where we can still have the best bits of rugby league but not having a place where people are suffering with their long-term health.

Stevie Ward

“I speak to players who are playing now who suffer and they don’t talk about it because they’re constantly caught in a cycle of proving their toughness and masculinity,” Ward said.

“Going through it initially I felt so alone…but I know players are struggling with it. It’s how we address the problem now. We need to lower contact.

“We know drinking and smoking are bad for us so we don’t do it all the time, so we need to find a balance where we can still have the best bits of rugby league but not having a place where people are suffering with their long-term health.”

RFL: Safety and welfare of all players taken ‘extremely seriously’

Rugby league’s governing body in the UK, the RFL, issued the following statement in response to the experiences laid bare by Ward in the documentary.

“The RFL has been very saddened to hear about Stevie’s difficulties,” the statement read.

“The RFL has always taken and continues to take the safety and welfare of all players extremely seriously. Rugby League is a contact sport and there is an element of risk to playing any sport.

“As a result of the continuing developments in scientific and medical knowledge relating to those risks, the sport of Rugby League continues to improve and develop its approach to concussion, head injury assessment, education, management and prevention across the whole game.

“We will continue to use medical evidence and research to reinforce, improve and enhance our approach as we have always done.”

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Ex-pros planning to sue RFL over concussion risks

Bobbie Goulding, Paul Highton and Jason Roach are part of a test group of 10 ex-players involved in the action against the RFL; all have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE, a progressive brain condition which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head

By PA Media

Last Updated: 27/10/21 8:27am




Former St Helens captain Bobbie Goulding is among the players planning to sue the RFL

A group of former players are planning to sue the Rugby Football League for negligence over what they say was a failure to protect them from the risks of concussion during their careers.

Bobbie Goulding, Paul Highton and Jason Roach are part of a test group of 10 ex-professionals involved in the action against the governing body. Those three men have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE.

CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – is a progressive brain condition which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

The players allege in a letter being sent to the RFL that, given the significant risk of serious or permanent brain damage caused by concussions, the governing body “owed them, as individual professional players, a duty to take
reasonable care for their safety by establishing and implementing rules in respect of the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of actual or suspected concussive and sub-concussive injuries”.

The group is represented by Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, the firm which has also launched an action on behalf of ex-rugby union players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

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Steve Thompson, who was diagnosed with dementia at 42 and will donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Project, says videos on social media have made him realise how little he remembers from his own time with the Lions
Steve Thompson, who was diagnosed with dementia at 42 and will donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Project, says videos on social media have made him realise how little he remembers from his own time with the Lions

Boardman is representing a wider group of more than 50 players, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, many of whom are showing symptoms associated with neurological complications.

Goulding, 49, played for 17 years as a professional, representing Great Britain, Wigan, Widnes, Leeds and St Helens.

He was diagnosed earlier this month, having battled earlier in his life with alcohol and drug addiction.

Highton, 44, played over 200 Super League games. Like Goulding, he was diagnosed earlier this month.

So too was Roach, 50, a former Scotland international who played for various top clubs in England in a career spanning more than a decade.

Roach said he started to notice something was amiss in his late 30s when he would repeat himself, and also had no recollection of crashing his vehicle and then acting in a threatening manner.

He said he had become “reclusive”, adding: “I used to be sociable, outgoing, Jack the Lad, funny, (the) life and soul of the party. I would go out on my own, I’d be one of the lads, probably the alpha male in a bunch of alpha males. I was the alpha alpha male.

“I’ve now gone to not wanting to do anything, frightened of situations. I now start doing things and when I come to an outcome, I don’t know how I got there.”

Bobbie Goulding coached France after retiring as a player

Another member of the group is Michael Edwards. The 48-year-old played for Oldham, Leigh and St Helens among others in the 1990s, as well as at national-team level for Wales. He now runs a bar with his partner in the north-west of England, but his memory is so poor he cannot fulfil any administrative work related to his business.

Edwards told PA he felt as though he had been treated “like a piece of meat” and said that the sport felt “like the Wild West” during his playing days.

He says his condition has robbed him of the memories of his playing days and that he now has to refer to scrapbooks or videos to remind himself.

Boardman said: “The vast majority of the former players we represent love the game and don’t want to see it harmed in any way. They just want to make it safer so current and future generations don’t end up like them.

“Younger players such as Stevie Ward and Sam Burgess have recently spoken publicly about their own brain damage, so these issues aren’t restricted to older generations.

“This is why we’re asking the RFL to make a number of immediate, relatively low-cost changes to save the sport, such as limiting contact in training and extending the return to play (following a concussion).”

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PFA chief executive Maheta Molango says he wants to ‘lead by example’ after pledging to donate his brain to aid research into brain trauma in athletes
PFA chief executive Maheta Molango says he wants to ‘lead by example’ after pledging to donate his brain to aid research into brain trauma in athletes

Governing body the RFL follows the 2016 Berlin Consensus Statement on Concussion In Sport, which is considered best practice by many sports bodies.

All professional rugby league matches have at least one doctor in attendance who is qualified to provide immediate on-field treatment, many have two and some Super League games have four.

Two clinical groups, one of which includes representation from the Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA), make recommendations on medical standards and best practice to the RFL.

Players are given a baseline cognitive function test at the start of each season before they engage in any contact training, and this baseline informs decisions taken as part of the graduated return-to-play (GRTP) protocols to ensure players have fully recovered from any concussion they suffer.

Players suspected of suffering a concussion in a match are taken off the pitch and assessed for 15 minutes, during which time the player can be replaced by a free interchange. The RFL’s Laws Committee regularly discusses and considers steps which seek to reduce contact with the head.

Sky Sports News has contacted the RFL for comment.

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PFA chiefs to donate brains to concussion initiative

PFA chief executive Maheta Molango and chair John Mousinho have pledged to donate their brains as part of a new initiative backed by the Jeff Astle Foundation.

The partnership with Concussion Legacy Foundation UK will research Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other consequences of brain trauma in athletes and military veterans in the United Kingdom.

On Thursday, Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson became the first athlete to pledge to the Concussion Legacy Project’s ‘brain bank’, having previously confirmed a diagnosis of early onset dementia and memory blanks which include the 2003 final between England and Australia.

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Steve Thompson, who was diagnosed with dementia at 42 and will donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Project, says videos on social media have made him realise how little he remembers from his own time with the Lions.

Molango, who played professional football in England with Brighton, Lincoln and Oldham, said: “While being very mindful of taking immediate steps to protect current players, in the long-term ongoing research is vital to enable us to be able to answer more questions and best support members.

“We have been listening and engaging with leading academic experts, and they tell us that brain donation is a key piece to the puzzle in understanding CTE.

“We are excited to join a global network of the most prominent researchers in this area.”

Image:
John Mousinho says he has been inspired by the Concussion Legacy Foundation

Oxford United midfielder Mousinho took on his role with the PFA in May and continues to turn out for the League One side he has represented since 2017 as part of a near 16-year professional career.

“Brain donation is an intensely personal decision for former players and their families,” he added.

“However, I have been inspired by the team at the Concussion Legacy Foundation and The Jeff Astle Foundation, and I have decided to commit my brain to future research in the hope that it can help play a part in protecting future generations.

“The Concussion Legacy Foundation has a strong ethos of supporting families and everyone affected by brain injury, and they are values we share at the PFA.”

Dawn Astle, who has been campaigning for two decades for football’s authorities to publicly recognise a link between the repeated heading of a football and dementia in later life, has given her full support to the new concussion initiative.

Speaking on behalf of The Jeff Astle Foundation, the daughter of the former England striker stated: “Brain donation is the most valuable gift of all for future generations of footballers. It may be many years before this jigsaw is complete but adding each piece, one at a time is the only way we will understand the true picture and make a better future for others.

“The Jeff Astle Foundation encourages families of athletes and veterans to donate the brain of their loved one to the Concussion Legacy Project at PledgeMyBrain.org.”

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Thompson pledges brain to new concussion initiative

Rugby World Cup winner and former Lion Steve Thompson will be the first professional athlete to pledge his brain to the Concussion Legacy Project, backed by the Jeff Astle Foundation; Thompson was diagnosed with dementia aged 42

Last Updated: 23/09/21 11:06am




Steve Thompson was diagnosed with dementia aged 42 and admitted he cannot remember playing the 2003 Rugby World Cup final

Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson has pledged to donate his brain as part of a new initiative backed by the Jeff Astle Foundation.

The partnership with Concussion Legacy Foundation UK will research Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other consequences of brain trauma in athletes and military veterans in the UK.

Thompson is the first athlete to pledge to the Concussion Legacy Project’s “brain bank”, with the former Lion previously admitting he cannot remember playing in England’s 2003 World Cup final win over Australia.

“I’m pledging my brain so the children of the people I love don’t have to go through what I have gone through,” said Steve Thompson, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 42.

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2003 Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson says a lack of care for player welfare could be one of the reasons he can’t remember the playing in the final
2003 Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson says a lack of care for player welfare could be one of the reasons he can’t remember the playing in the final

“It’s up to my generation to pledge our brains so researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make the game safer.”

The Jeff Astle Foundation was launched in 2015, 13 years after the former England and West Brom forward died of dementia in 2002.

Jeff Astle’s daughter, Dawn Astle, has been campaigning for two decades for football’s authorities to publicly recognise a link between the repeated heading of a football and dementia in later life and has supported around 200 families of former players living with dementia.

“Brain donation is the most valuable gift of all for future generations of footballers,” Dawn Astle said.

“It may be many years before this jigsaw is complete, but by adding each piece, one at a time, it is the only way we shall understand the true picture and so be able to make a better future for others.

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New PFA dementia advisor Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff Astle, will help shape the dementia care provision at the players union for former and current footballers
New PFA dementia advisor Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff Astle, will help shape the dementia care provision at the players union for former and current footballers

“The Jeff Astle Foundation encourages families of athletes and veterans to donate the brain of their loved one to the Concussion Legacy Project.”

The Concussion Legacy Project will be led by Dr Gabriele DeLuca, Associate Professor in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford and Director of Clinical Neurosciences Undergraduate Education at Oxford Medical School.

“Brain donation will allow us to better understand the complexities of CTE so that we can develop tailored interventions and treatments to prevent its devastating consequences,” said Dr. DeLuca.

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