USA Rugby Medical Symposium to examine concussion data, ACL reconstruction, more

Plenty of criticism has been directed towards the Welsh Rugby Union for its handling of hits to the head of George North in the nation's opening RBS 6 Nations match last weekend against England.

Held at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Welsh winger was struck twice and appeared to be unconscious following at least one of the incidents. According to WRU, North passed the concussion protocol test following the first-half hit and returned to the pitch, though the second-half incident "was previously unsighted on the field of play."

World Rugby also released a statement regarding the situation, inquiring if "all concussion management protocols were appropriately followed."

Register for the USA Rugby Medical Symposium

Had the match been played at Soldier Field in Chicago, or any other venue home to the USA Eagles, medical staff - be it pitch-side or the medical spotters in luxury boxes - provided by USA Rugby would have seen each incident on the field of play and would have notified the proper personnel to ensure the USA Rugby Concussion Policy was followed. On-field staff will monitor the play at USA Sevens this weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium, where 16 of the world's top international rugby sevens teams will compete over an intense three-day period.

Sports Legacy Institute Co-founder and Executive Director Chris Nowinski was able to assist The Rugby Football Union recently with the mandatory online concussion awareness module, which must be completed by coaches, players, and referees registered in RFU-sanctioned events and teams.

Nowinski will be in Las Vegas this week for the sixth annual USA Rugby Sports Medicine Symposium at the Monte Carlo. The former Harvard University football star and WWE wrestler (Chris Harvard) suffered a concussion of his own and switched directions to study the effects of concussions on athletes. He wrote a book, Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, and will present "Concussion and CTE Risk: Appropriate Responses to Current Data" to hundreds of coaches, physicians, trainers, and more.

"Part of my presentation's going to be focusing on the hit count and using that to reduce concussions and reduce contact in practice," Nowinski said. "Reducing contact in practice is probably the number-one way we can reduce risk of long-term problems in rugby.

"The other major theme I'm going to talk about is education, and the benefits of education and accelerating culture change and creating a safer game."

Seattle-based X2 Biosystems' x-Patch has recently been used in Aviva Premiership matches featuring Saracens Rugby Club. The accelerometers in the patches, worn behind players' ears, measure the speed at which a head travels from a hit anywhere on the body.

Nowinski does not necessarily think the x-Patch will provide immediate knowledge as it relates to diagnosing concussions, but sensors like the x-Patch could benefit the tracking of hit count, which will be discussed in his presentation.

"I think there's a lot of support for [the use of sensors] to count hits, to just track exposure, and teach how to minimize risk," Nowinski said. "That's what our hit count initiative is doing . . . the idea of just counting every time you're hit in the head to get feedback into how you're practicing and how you're playing and as a way to reduce risk of concussion by just reducing the number of times you're hit in the head."

The list of presenters for the Medical Symposium include the likes of Dr. Robert Cantu, who spoke at last year's conference, USA Rugby Director of Medical Services Mike Keating, and Christopher Kaeding, MD, of Ohio State University.

Kaeding's presentation - "Current concepts of ACL Reconstruction" - will get away from the concussion initiative and focus solely on a prevalent problem in most sports. As head team physician for Ohio State's athletic department, Kaeding works with the NCAA National Champion-football team as well as the club rugby team, which produced National Football League Super Bowl Champion Nate Ebner.

"We're going to focus on what we know about re-injuries because, after successful ACL reconstruction, the bad thing that can happen is a re-tear," Kaeding said of his presentation, scheduled for Friday morning. "I'm going to discuss some of the risk factors and what we've learned about competitive cutting athletes and what happens to them, and what's the risk of reinjuring their graft after they have a successful ACL reconstruction."

Visit the USA Rugby Medical Symposium website for the full conference agenda and to register.