According to World Rugby, new data on the amount of force exerted on rugby players’ heads during a match or practice should reassure parents and young athletes about the safety of this sport. This is especially true for amateur players.
The new study found that the impact that amateur rugby players experience during a match or practice can be the same or even less than what a runner feels when he is training. That’s if everyone plays exactly according to the rules, doesn’t make any dangerous tackles and all players wear face shields.
An extension of the study among professional players also shows that the amount of force exerted during impact on these players’ heads does not necessarily have to be significant either.
Both studies used smart mouthguards to understand the forces players experience on their heads during matches and training situations. The mouthguards measure the force acceleration or gravity during matches using technology independently verified in research laboratories.
The first study was undertaken by the Otago Rugby Community Head Impact Detection (Orchid), in collaboration with World Rugby, New Zealand Rugby, Otago Rugby, the University of Otago and Prevent Biometrics. It measured 17,000 separate cases of impact on young rugby players’ heads. More than 300 players between the ages of 13 and 22 participated in the study.
The second study was an extension of the first one, to include professional players in all nine international rugby unions and undertook to “paint a complete picture of what it is really like to play rugby”.
This study had to determine which risks are related to contact events at a professional level.
The findings in the Orchid study indicated that 86% of the forces measured on players’ heads during the game were the same or less than those experienced when performing common exercises such as running or jumping rope.
A total of 94% of the forces players experienced on their heads were even lower than those previously measured on people riding a roller coaster.
In cases where the forces were strongest, it was due to poor technique during a dive.
The findings also indicated that stronger forces are exerted on forwards’ heads than on backs’. This is probably because they are more frequently exposed to contact events.
In the study on professional rugby players, the findings showed that most contact events during matches do not result in “any significant forces to the head”. This despite the fact that impacts are much higher during matches than during training.
Most low, medium and high forces on players’ heads are measured during a tackle or scrum.
“This data, together with the recent research on the health benefits of rugby, paints a more complete picture of what it is like to practice our sport,” says Dr. Eanna Falvey, World Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer.
“These studies help us understand the causes of different impacts on players’ heads and make the necessary changes to make the game safer.”
World Rugby has already used the findings of both studies to implement smart mouthguards to help protect players from head injuries. The smart mouth guard technology is used to make doctors on the side of the field aware of possible concussions.
This technology will be integrated into World Rugby’s head injury assessment manual from January.
“Our goal as researchers is to make a significant impact through our work. Therefore, we are very pleased to see our work integrated into new strategies and guidelines designed to improve player safety,” says Dr. Melanie Bussey, associate professor of biomechanics at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
“We believe that smart mouthguard technology has tremendous potential to improve and promote player safety and performance analysis in rugby. Our research has opened doors to a wealth of insights, and we are committed to further exploring this innovative field.”