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Rugby and cognitive function study

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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,462 ✭✭✭ karlitob


    It certainly is. The question is what do we do about it? There are a lot of law amendments that can certainly be made - no tackles higher than the waist etc. but there will always be scrums, rucks and mauls; and therefore always the potential for head injuries. At some stage, the line will have to be drawn on what is the most that can be done through law changes and what risk is accepted by those who play - because otherwise there is no game. This is/will be no different to any sport and their common injuries - NFL, cycling, formula 1, horse riding - where serious injuries and even death is not uncommon.


    I also don't think that I agree with Shane Williams on limiting replacements as fresher players could cause head injuries to those that are not fresh. Not sure there is any evidence on the correlation between play time and head injury (a new player can get a head injury, and head injuries occur at the start of the match). Also, knees and shoulders are the primary injuries in rugby - more play time makes a player tired and more likely to injure when tired (though that is a general principle pulled from other sports). Like all things - it must be measured.


    I remember reading a study on morphological changes in the cervical spine of props. Very worrying-some stuff. This one is a simple study I've just googled but I've seen others that do show progressive and long term pain and discomfort. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26879795_The_cervical_spine_of_professional_front-row_rugby_players_Correlation_between_degenerative_changes_and_symptoms


    I think it's also important the elite rugby players and bog standard age grade rugby are separated out and studied differently. They are not the same thing. An interesting article in the Mayo clinic in 2012 identified a 5 fold increase in a-fib (a heart issue that is the main cause of stroke) in excessive endurance athletes. Running is good for you but ultra-ultra-ultra-marathon aren't in the long run (pun intended). Perhaps its the same in rugby https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00473-9/pdf



  • Moderators, Category Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 49,443 CMod ✭✭✭✭ awec


    I heard the limited-replacements argument made before by someone else and I can see merit in it. If players know they have to last 80 minutes they may have to dial back on the physicality, and may also have to reduce their physical size.

    Look at the front row for example, they're basically bred these days to be 50/60 minute players. If all props had to be able to run about for 80 minutes then IMO you'd start seeing smaller props.

    The limited replacement thing is more relevant for forwards than backs I think.



  • Registered Users Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭ Lost Ormond


    World Rugby looked at changing tackle laws and lowering it but decided against it based on limited trials iirc. Scrums dont cause concussion much. The stats show that over 50% of concussion occur in the tackle.



  • Registered Users Posts: 2,462 ✭✭✭ karlitob


    I mention scrums and their relation to neck injuries; not only acute but chronic as per the reference above. If we're having discussions about concussion and head injuries, then I reckon the logic has to hold with respect to harm from other parts of the game i.e. scrums and neck injuries.



  • Registered Users Posts: 2,462 ✭✭✭ karlitob


    Agree - ish. I dont know the stats as well as I used to anymore but when it comes to concussion I dont think it would matter whether your forward or back, and therefore who is replaced or not replaced in the context of concussion. If i remember correctly, outside of the tackle a lot of the injuries occur in the ruck and it doesnt matter position - mainly.


    Ive a limited knowledge any more in this area.



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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭ Lost Ormond


    Do you have stats on number of neck injuries that result from scrums and is the number of that occur enough to make changes? How would toy change the law anyway as if you are going down the line of potentially what could occur you would have to get rid of a lot in rugby



  • Registered Users Posts: 2,462 ✭✭✭ karlitob


    Not anymore, I'm afraid. I do remember from my research that the crouch, touch, pause, engage (or whatever the first iteration of that was back in the 2000s) was first trialled in Oz under-19s in the 1980s (87, I think). Disabling neck injuries went from high to none. Took 15 years or so to introduce it around the world. Again, this is disabling neck injuries, as opposed to chronic that I reference above. I think the NZ kiwi physio, Ken Currie leads the charge on degenerative disorders from scrums/props.

    I also remember that the average age in Ireland (at that time) for disabling neck injuries was 21.5 - senior schools rugby, or young lads in senior sports. So the argument were - is it due to power (senior schools rugby being a fairly serious level of rugby) or was it insufficient skill and experience (young strong lads playing against guileful men). Again, a long time ago during my research no nothing to back it up.

    And finally, as part of my research it seemed - very surprisingly - that backs had neck injuries (not disabling ones) from poor technique at the ruck. Hitting the ground, losing their feet etc. Those days are long gone when a back didnt know how to ruck though.




    "How would toy change the law anyway as if you are going down the line of potentially what could occur you would have to get rid of a lot in rugby' And I think this is what I'm getting at. The safest way is to not play rugby....at some stage there needs to be a balance of risk versus as safe as it can be. Like the roads I suppose. The problem is that we dont know what the current extent of the injury problems are, and how beneficial law changes are. Not easy. But we've all got a responsibility to improve safety in our sport.



  • Registered Users Posts: 3,058 ✭✭✭ Former Former Former


    It's not all about concussion though. Slamming into the opposition scrum over and over again is bound to take its toll, even if your shoulders bear the brunt - your brain is still getting bounced around.

    I don't think these findings are very surprising tbh. I'm just not sure what we do about it.



  • Moderators, Category Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 49,443 CMod ✭✭✭✭ awec


    I think the limited replacements is a relatively easy and quick change to make and likely one of the first things that'll be looked at.

    It gets more complicated once you start adjusting the actual laws. The nature of the game means that the risk to players will always be relatively substantial unless the game is changed into a sport that's unrecognisable from what it is today. I think the main thing will be to limit the ways you can have big collisions, and I think they've already done that in the scrum as much as they'll be able to.

    No more tackling above the nipples, changes to the laws around poaching the ball on the ground after a tackle so that clearing out becomes less of a thing etc.



  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 11,007 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Quin_Dub


    You make a good point - How many changes do you make and at what point does it cease to be the game of Rugby if you continue to remove more and more areas of contact etc.

    We really have two games at present - The Pro game and the "community" game , the risk profile both in terms of potential traumatic injury and those that arise from long term progressive damage are altogether different between the two games.

    The risks in the Pro game are greatly magnified by the increased size and pace of players and the resulting impacts , particularly at the breakdown area - It is a huge multiplier on the risk profile.

    I think the removal of tactical substitutions and a far more consistent application of the laws around the contact area would have a real effect on that risk profile.

    Remove tactical subs and now all the players have to be able to last the full 80 minutes , you'd see a 5-10KG reduction in teams average player weights pretty quickly in my view on that basis , it would also take some speed out of the game as players would necessarily begin to pace themselves a bit more to ensure they still have gas in the tank for the final 10-15 minutes etc.

    On the application of the laws the problems is really all about angle of entry and point of contact at the breakdown for me. The laws to address this are already on the books, they just need to be applied.

    Rigidly enforce the point of entry being behind the back foot and parallel to the touchline and also that all players must remain on their feet when joining a ruck - Today you have guys torpedoing into the breakdown to clear out a potential jackaler and going straight off their feet beyond the ball and not getting pinged solely because they aren't considered to be "sealing off".

    Make them have to stay on their feet and it does a number of things - It significantly reduces the chances of a head/shoulder impact to the head of the player already in the ruck and it also takes a lot of the pace out of the impact as having to concentrate on maintaining their feet will naturally slow down the pace of the incoming player. They'll have to pick their spot and identify where and how they are going to place their feet etc.



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