Concussion: Alarming new findings
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A new study that shows playing elite rugby could lead to changes in brain structure according to players’ chief Damian Hopley.
In a sport, where heavy contact is far more common and the potential for brain injuries higher, a study by Imperial College London found one fifth of elite players showed signs of abnormalities to the brain’s white matter.
The study, part of the Drake Rugby Biomarker Study and carried out with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), was based on an evaluation of 44 elite rugby players, almost half of whom had recently sustained a mild head injury while playing.
The 41 male players and three female players all underwent MRI scans, with almost half undergoing a second scan, between July 2017 and September 2019.
Professor David Sharp, the study’s senior author, said despite “relatively high rates of head injury and an increasing focus on prevention, there has been relatively little research investigating the long-term effects of rugby participation”.
“What is not clear at this stage is the long-term clinical impact of these changes. Further research is needed to understand the long-term implications of repeated head injuries,” he added.
Rugby Players’ Association chief executive Damian Hopley admitted the report’s findings “will scare certain players”, despite remaining convinced the game can stay at the sharp end of concussion research and safety.
The Rugby Football Union announced a raft of new measures to reduce head impact and concussion risks, joining forces with Premiership Rugby to invest almost £2.5million in brain assessments and care for former players.
“Obviously this sets hares running,” Hopley said.
“Clearly it’s going to be a headline that will scare certain players.
“But we’ve got to take this in the round of what’s currently happening, and make sure that we are looking at all of the available research and making informed answers on the back of it.”
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The RFU was involved in the Drake Foundation study, and has now confirmed details of a new action plan to continue the work to improve player safety.
The RFU wants all 13 Premiership club players to wear smart mouthguards for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, in a bid to create new limits for contact training.
Harlequins’ men and Bristol Bears Women have already trialled the technology, that allows support staff to monitor head impacts in real time.
The RFU and Premiership Rugby will also fund post-career brain health assessments and care for players, led by experts Professor David Sharp and Dr Sylvester.
Players’ chief Hopley believes current stars would be in favour of moves to reduce the amount of full contact work undertaken in training.
“I think players would welcome that, based on the conversations we’ve had,” Hopley said.
“And it’s about how we manage that, how we do that appropriately, marrying the medical data we’ve talked about.
“Trying to give certainty to what’s contact, clarification and regulation around that is an important step forward.”
Source: AFP & Rugbypass