Research examines concussion in junior sport

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Research examines concussion in junior sport


USC PhD researcher Amanda Clacy

21 May 2013

A University of the Sunshine Coast researcher has started a ground-breaking study of the risk factors associated with adolescents sustaining concussion while playing sport.

Coolum Beach student Amanda Clacy, who graduated with Honours in Social Sciences (Psychology) at USC in 2011, is now doing the research for her USC Doctor of Philosophy.

“My PhD study is the first of its kind because nobody has looked into the ‘before picture’ of sport-related concussion in this way,” she said.

“I’m specifically examining what individual characteristics make a young person more prone to getting such a head injury.

“I’ve narrowed the participant pool to 11-17 year old boys playing rugby union on the Sunshine Coast for this study, but I expect the findings to be generally applicable to any junior contact sport.”

The 23-year-old, originally from Kingaroy, said she became passionate about the topic after growing up in a sports-loving community where she and her four brothers all played codes of football.

Sunshine Coast Junior Rugby Union chairman Peter Matthews and Stingray Rugby High Performance Unit director Ian Brown said they fully supported the research, which seemed long overdue.

“Our club presidents are enthusiastic about doing what we can to support it, because it would be fantastic to help prevent concussion and understand why it happens before it happens,” Mr Matthews said.

“This is a continuation of the great working relationship Sunshine Coast Rugby Union has with USC and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

Ms Clacy, who also works as a Psychology tutor at USC, said paediatric sport-related head injuries had become a big issue in the media and the community but more facts were needed.

“Basically, I want to know why some kids can run around a field for hours and not get a head knock while others seem to get one every other weekend,” she said.

Her research will measure risk factors in relation to sustaining a concussion, such as age, years of experience, personality (for example sensation-seeking, impulsive, anxious), BMI and aerobic fitness and executive function, which refers to cognitive skills such as problem-solving, learning and memory. 

Ms Clacy will attend junior rugby training sessions on the Coast this season, aiming to include more than 500 children in her questionnaire and fitness tests.

Measurements taken will include the lengths of each child’s index finger in relation to their ring finger, as an indicator of testosterone levels received in utero.

“I’m delighted that Sunshine Coast Junior Rugby Union is enthusiastic about my research because it could have wonderful implications for improving our understanding of the risk factors and outcomes of concussion,” she said.

This research aims to form the basis of a proposed 10-year study in which Ms Clacy, along with her USC supervisors Dr Rachael Sharman and Dr Geoff Lovell, will continue to track athletes’ risk factors and the long-term consequences of head injuries.

— Julie Schomberg

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