Scottish study to advance rugby player welfare

Scottish Rugby is seeking the assistance of former international players with a ground-breaking medical project that could benefit future generations.

Working alongside world-renowned experts in the field of head injuries, Scottish Rugby is asking Scotland players of the past to take part in a study on the effects of concussion.

Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital explained that studies in other contact sports, particularly in the United States – for example, ice-hockey and American football – have suggested there could be links between head injuries and subsequent emotional, cognitive or physiological function.

Powerful

“What we are looking to find out is if there is evidence that head injuries in rugby union have any long-term health effects.

“The importance of us working on this study, particularly with the assistance of Scottish Rugby, cannot be under-estimated.  Rugby, globally, has been under the spotlight regarding management of concussion and within the medical world we’re still not able to answer the question definitively ‘Is there a problem?’

“This study, to be conducted through research workers from the University of Glasgow and primarily by interview, will be incredibly powerful for the game of rugby.”

Professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Glasgow, Tom McMillan, said: “We do not know much about any long-term consequences of head injuries in rugby players so this will be one of the first studies of its kind.

“We may find there aren’t any long-term consequences. We may find in a small number of people there are – in terms of how they function.”

Scottish Rugby takes the issue of concussion extremely seriously. Over the past four years, through our Are  You Ready to play Rugby safety initiative we have had mandatory concussion awareness and management training for any teachers, coaches and referees working with youth and adult players in the community game.

Scottish Rugby operates under the mantra “If in doubt, sit them out,” when it comes to anyone suspected of suffering concussion.
Dr Stewart believes that research gleaned from the elite end of the game can better inform overall medical procedures.

He added: “If we look at the ex-Scotland internationalists and we find there is really nothing of concern then I think we can probably look at the amateur game and say the chances of there being a problem there are pretty slim.”

Dr James Robson Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer said: “Concussion at the moment is the singularly most important health care issue in a number of sports.  By looking back at our ex-internationalists we hope to learn how we can look forwards.

“Clearly things have changed over the years in the way we look after and manage players’ health. I think player welfare has improved significantly but that does not mean we should rest on our laurels.  This is an opportunity to take our care further.”

Shape the future

Scotland’s cap and points’ record-holder, Chris Paterson, will take part in the study and is encouraging other former Scotland players to embrace it too.

He said: “We have the opportunity here to help the future of the game and players’ welfare.  I’m a parent and I don’t know if my children will choose to play rugby. But I’d like to be able to use my experiences along the way, together with those of other players, to help shape the future and underline that our sport is doing everything it can to lead the way on understanding concussion for future generations of players at all levels of the game.”

Dr Stewart hopes that as many ex-internationalists as possible will participate in the study. “The strength of the information we get from this study and its value to our understanding of head injuries in rugby and how best to manage them are directly related to the number of ex-players we can speak to,” he added.