Research: Concussion in rugby appears to be hidden epidemic

CHAPEL HILL Rugby, a rough-and-tumble, high-energy contact sport similar to U.S. football but played almost worldwide, leads to far more concussions than players, coaches and medical personnel have previously thought, a new study suggests.

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in Salt Lake City, showed that as many as 25 percent of rugby injuries might involve the brain-banging, life-threatening trauma. No rugby players wear hard-shell protective helmets like those worn in U.S. football, and most dont wear soft-shell helmets -- unproven to protect heads well -- either.

We followed two Utah rugby squads carefully for three years and were surprised at how many concussions there were, said Dr. Stephen W. Marshall, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health and biostatistician at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center. Previous studies, which were not as rigorous as ours, reported much fewer concussions in the sport although theres no reason to think its different or safer in other states or countries.

A report on the findings has just appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the official journal of the National Athletic Trainers Association. Along with Marshall, Richard J. Spencer, a certified athletic trainer at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, wrote the paper.

Over the three years, the researchers recorded 17 concussions, including 14 relatively mild ones, according to a standardized assessment doctors and athletic trainers use, two moderate injuries and a severe one. Even mild concussions with no obvious symptoms are a concern, the two said, since they can make subsequent head trauma more likely if a player is returned to competition before symptoms resolve.

In their research, Marshall and Spencer found 11.3 concussions per 100 player-seasons. A quarter of playing days lost from rugby involved such head injuries.

By comparison

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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