Rugby Union


Rugby's head-on approach to tackling concussion

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There's a reason most physios and doctors working for any sports team hate attempting to treat concussion - it can be so difficult to diagnose.

With a bone-break, muscle strain or ligament injury, there are obvious signs a player cannot continue to participate.

However, with so many wide-ranging symptoms and the various potentially dangerous consequences from playing on, it has generally always been considered to be better safe than sorry when any knocks to the head occur.

That is easier said than done, though. Most players are so reluctant to leave the field of play, they will refuse to admit the full extent of their suffering - especially in rugby.

Worryingly, concussion accounted for 25% of all injuries in the English professional game during the 2015-16 season and there is no easy fix.

More often than not, rugby matches are so fiercely contested, no one is prepared to willingly leave the pitch after taking a hit. For some, it's a sign of weakness.

In episode three of The Winning Formula, a GiveMeSport documentary investigating the role of data analysis in sport, ex-World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio admits some players need telling when they should rest and recuperate.

"Everyone's got a very strong work ethic and in rugby particularly, you have to have that strong work ethic.


"Often as a player, you can be your own worst enemy. You want to push yourself, push yourself all the time. So you need someone to hold you back a little bit and suggest possibly rest and recovery might be as good as pushing yourself into another training session."

Thankfully, the introduction of head injury assessments (HIA) during matches has taken the power away from players.

Now, anyone who has suffered a suspected concussion must pass a series of tests before returning to the match.

It has still been the subject of controversy, though, with some players still able to pass the HIA even after they have clearly been on the wrong end of a very serious hit.

Wales v England - RBS Six Nations

Nevertheless, it remains an improvement on the previous absence of any immediate examinations.

The nature of tackling and scrummaging in rugby means there will always be a risk of concussion but that doesn't mean more can't be done to prevent it as much as possible.

And a recent study from the University of Bath might have made a major breakthrough in helping that cause.

A relatively simple 20-minute exercise program, performed three times a week by teenagers aged between 14-18 across 40 schools, saw 59% fewer cases of concussion than other schools.

It wasn't just concussion, however, the study showed that the program also reduces injuries overall by more than 70%.

New Zealand v British & Irish Lions

By getting players to perform exercises to improve their balance, movement and strengthen the general neck and head area as they just start out in the game, it will only serve them well as they progress in the sport.

The long-term effects of such a workout will surely prove beneficial too.

Professor Keith Stokes led the study and is confident the results can be used to improve rugby in more ways than one.

"We believe these findings will have a significant impact in helping to improve player welfare, making the game safer for young players to enjoy," he told the BBC.

Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series - Day Two

"If people are moving better, they can also keep their head out of the way."

This kind of progress is exactly what one of the most physical sports in the world need to ensure players are protected as much as possible.

And it is another extremely valuable example to show the value of analysing data, not just to prevent injury but to make a sport safer.

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New Zeland Rugby
England Rugby
Six Nations
Jonny Wilkinson
Wales Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup
Australia Rugby
Rugby Union
Owen Farrell

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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