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Due to the growing fear of long term brain injury in the sport, World Rugby has undertaken a research project over the last 29 months on almost 500 players in the hopes of understanding more about the affect of multiple concussions on brain function.
Concern in the sport has been growing following the £490 million settlement in 2013 between American football’s NFL and former players, who said the league hid the dangers of long-term brain damage. The issue was highlighted when Wales and Northampton winger George North and England’s Harlequins full-back Mike Brown were both stood down from the game for an extended period after suffering concussion earlier this year.
Despite World Rugby’s caveat that more research is needed, the study does show a link between multiple concussion injuries and poor performances on neurological testing. Professor Patria Hume who undertook the study said that, rugby players who had suffered four or more concussions performed worse in tests measuring mental and physical coordination, motor speed and multi-tasking. The BBC article that commented on the study has spoken to Former England centre Shontayne Hape, who retired aged 33. He said that “the specialist explained that my brain was so traumatised, had swollen so big, that even just getting a tap to the body would knock me out. I had to retire immediately.”
The study involved 131 ex-players, 281 retired amateur players and 73 retired non-contact sports people. Professor Hume said that 94% of elite level rugby players experienced one or more concussions. The study showed a statistically significant link between repeated concussion and brain damage.
However, rugby’s governing bodies believe the increase in concussion and reported head injury is because of improved understanding of the injuries.
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