Rugby study probes concussion impact on brain

A major study of rugby union players points to a potential link between frequent
concussion and brain function according to the project’s lead researcher.

Releasing preliminary findings from the long-term study in New Zealand — the
largest of its type to ever focus on rugby union — researcher Patria Hume said
players needed to be aware of the risks.

“If you have a concussion you need to report it and get it medically assessed,”
Professor Hume told AFP.

“You also need to consider that potentially there may be some long-term
health effects. Ninety four percent of elite level rugby players experienced
one or more concussions, that’s a lot.”

The Auckland University of Technology study was commissioned by World Rugby
in 2012 amid growing fears about the potential for long-term brain injuries
in high-impact sports.

It examined the health of 485 men — 131 of them former professional rugby
players, 281 amateur rugby players and 73 who had played non-contact sports
such as cricket and hockey.

Hume said the study, which is in the process of being peer reviewed for publication,
showed a statistically significant link between repeated concussion and brain

“We’ve got to go through that scientific process, but what I’m saying
is that, as a scientist, it’s irresponsible for people to say there are no long-term
brain health issues,” she said.

“Because all indications so far from the analysis we have done indicates
that there possibly are for the rugby players and for people who have been concussed
more than four times.”

She said rugby players who has suffered four or more concussions performed
worse in tests measuring mental and physical coordination, motor speed and multi-tasking.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper described player welfare as his number
one priority, saying he wanted more research into preventing and managing concussion.

“While the study does not provide any definitive conclusions, we are alive
to all potential risks and, as such, we will continue to prioritise research
in this very important area,” he said.

In April, US courts approved a potential billion-dollar settlement in a class
action brought by thousands of former American football players against the
National Football League, which accused it of covering up the dangers of brain
injury. The settlement is currently under appeal.

Hume said there had been a cultural change in rugby in recent years recognising
the dangers of concussion.

High-profile players such as All Blacks Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Brodie
Retallick have all sat out matches in the past 12 months after suffering concussion.

However, problems still exist, with an outcry in Britain in February when Wales
wing George North was twice knocked unconscious during a Six Nations defeat
to England.

Similarly, French rugby bosses tightened concussion rules last year after Toulouse
centre Florian Fritz was sent back out to play even though he was bleeding and
clearly disorientated after a head knock.

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