Objective: The objective of this study was to compare the seasonal concussion incidence for school, university, club and provincial level Rugby Union players in South Africa.
Design: The study presents a retrospective statistical analysis of the number of reported concussions documented annually for groups of Rugby Union players as a proportion of those who received preseason neurocognitive assessment.
Setting: Between 2002 and 2006, concussion management programs using computerized neuropsychological assessment were implemented for clinical and research purposes by psychologists in selected South African institutions involved in Rugby Union from school through to the professional level.
Participants: The incidence figures were based on 175 concussive episodes reported for 165 athletes who were referred for neurocognitive assessment from a population of 1366 athletes who received preseason baseline testing.
Interventions: Concussion management routines varied according to the protocols adopted by the different psychologists and rugby organizations.
Main outcome measurements: It was expected that the incidence of concussion would vary significantly due to level of play and different management protocols.
Result: There was wide disparity in the manner in which concussion follow-up was managed by the various organizations. Within broadly comparable cohorts, tighter control was associated with a relatively higher concussion incidence for athletes per rugby playing season, with average institutional figures ranging from 4% to 14% at school level and 3% to 23% at adult level.
Conclusions: This analysis suggests that concussion goes unrecognized and therefore incorrectly managed in a number of instances. Recommendations for optimal identification of concussed athletes for follow-up management are presented.