Protective equipment used in rugby union has only limited effectiveness

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Rugby Union has much in common with U.S. football and is played in over 120 countries throughout the world. Much of its value comes from its rich history, traditions, camaraderie and community involvement with the sport.Rugby Union has much in common with U.S. football and is played in over 120 countries throughout the world. Much of its value comes from its rich history, traditions, camaraderie and community involvement with the sport. Rugby is widely regarded as a much more physical game than U.S. football, with full body contact and limited padding. Southern hemisphere nations dominate the game with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa competing for supremacy over the last 15 years.

Among the similarities are blocking, tackling, passing and strenuous attempts to get a ball across a goal line while preventing the opposing team from doing likewise.

And, of course, frequent injuries, a small percentage of which are catastrophic, life-altering events that turn recreation into tragedy.

A new study conducted by researchers at the universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, now shows part of the reason why.

Protective equipment used in rugby union has only limited effectiveness in preventing injuries.

"We found that the risk of concussion was not reduced by the use of padded headgear or mouthguards," said lead researcher Dr. Stephen Marshall, assistant professor of epidemiology and assistant professor of orthopaedics at the UNC schools of public health and medicine.

Hard-shell helmets and most body padding like U.S. football players wear are not permitted in rugby union, said Marshall, also a biostatistician at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center.

"We did show, however, that use of mouthguards tended to lower the risk of mouth and face injuries by close to 50 percent, and padded headgear appeared to lower the risk of damage to the scalp and to ears by about 40 percent," he said. "Support sleeves cut the risk of sprains and strains about close to 40 percent as well."

He and colleagues found no evidence that shinguards and application of tape or grease protected players.

A report on the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center findings appears in the February issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Besides Marshall, UNC authors are Dr. Dana P. Loomis, professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Anna E. Waller, research assistant professor of emergency medicine. Other authors are David J. Chalmers and Yvonne N. Bird of the University of Otago; Kenneth L. Quarrie, now of the New Zealand Rugby Union; and Michael Feehan, formerly of Otago and Harvard universities and now owner of Observant LLV, a private Wellesley, Mass., research consulting company.

The study involved analyzing data gathered from 304 rugby players in Dunedin, New Zealand, each week during the 1993 season. The detailed information concerned injuries, protective equipment use and participation in practice and games.

"I think the bottom line is that rugby is a wonderful but dangerous sport, and that new types of protective equipment need to be developed if we are reduce the toll of injury," Marshall said.

Comments

  1. Rugby Coaching Rugby Coaching United Kingdom says:

    Rugby is far more physical than Americian football. Not only is it tougher because we don't wear all the protective gear, but we also don't have nowhere near as many breaks. It's too half split into 40 minutes.



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