Rugby concussions soar by 59 per cent, according to shocking new report
The Rugby Football Union plans to recruit former England internationals to pioneer a study into the long-term effects of playing rugby as statistics yesterday revealed that the number of concussions suffered by Premiership players increased by 59 per cent last season.
Here are the numbers from the report:
The England Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project, published in collaboration with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, showed that although the rate of injuries remained stable during the 2013-14 season, the severity of injuries continues to rise in the professional game.
In total 739 injuries were sustained during matches and caused a player to miss training or a game. The average injury caused a player to miss 26 days; in 2002, when the project began, the average severity was 16 days. Meanwhile, training now accounts for a third of all injuries (a total of 414). At any one time during the season the average Premiership club will be without a quarter of their squad. In that context, England missing 12 players for their Six Nations match against Wales was not abnormal.
For the third consecutive season, concussion was the most common match injury. There were a total of 86 match concussions (a further eight in training), up from 54 in the 2012-13 season, which accounted for 12.5 per cent of all match injuries.
On average, there are 10.5 concussions per 1,000 playing hours. By way of comparison there are 17 concussions per 1,000 hours in boxing and 25 per 1,000 hours in jump horse racing. The difference, of course, is that rugby players are not placed in a position to fall nine feet from an object moving at 40mph nor are they asked to purposefully knock each other unconscious.
Some of that increase can be attributed to greater awareness. Earlier this season, all professional English players had to undertake an mandatory online concussion module. Yet as Simon Kemp, the RFU’s chief medical officer, admitted the true rate of concussion in rugby is likely to be higher still.
“If you plot reported concussions you see it moving outside the two standard deviations. This is a trending and significant difference,” Kemp said. “The incidence of reported concussion is likely to continue to rise with greater awareness. I would stress this is reported concussion. Most [scientific] papers would agree, there has historically been an under-reporting of concussion across all sports.”
What makes the rising rate of concussions so alarming is the association between repeated head traumas and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has been found in the brains of dozens of deceased American football players.
The NFL, which has a lower rate of concussion than in rugby, is close to finalising a settlement worth $1 billion (£655 million) to more than 4,500 players for hiding the dangers of concussion-related head trauma.
After the conclusion of this year’s Six Nations, the RFU aims to recruit 40 per cent of the ERIC (England Retired Internationals Club) to launch a study into how rugby has affected their cognitive functions and musculoskeletal system. “We have been planning for this for 12 months,” Kemp said. “It will be the start of a greater understanding of the long-term consequences of playing rugby.”
The study will be undertaken in partnership with Oxford University and they hope to publish its findings in early 2016. A similar study in New Zealand was due to present its conclusions in November 2013 but has yet to publish. The worry is whether an organisation with a vested interest can truly present itself as an independent arbiter of this research.
As shown in the documentary League of Denial, the NFL went to extraordinary lengths to cover up the dangers of concussion. As shown by the George North incident in Wales’s defeat against England, rugby still has a long way to go in its management of concussion. North, the wing, appeared to be knocked out once, if not twice, but remained on the pitch until the final whistle.