Young women rugby players join concussion study

Professor Nick Draper with Izzy Scovell and Hanna Alsop who are taking part in the study with Head Coach Kevin Scovell. Supplied image.

Young female rugby players will join a world-leading trial to find out whether headgear can help prevent collision-related injuries on the field.

The study is aimed at finding out whether World Rugby-approved protective headgear can reduce impacts during on the field collisions. It also explores the possible health consequences of collisions on young brains.

Lead researcher University of Canterbury education, health and human development Professor Nick Draper says it’s important that young women are included because previous research suggests females are more at risk from concussion.

“It’s a really important population to study and we’re very grateful to the Neurological Foundation for providing this funding for us. I think what we’re doing now will be world-leading in terms of collecting data on young male and female players and being able to compare the results.”

The two-year Canterbury study, which will kick off in next year’s rugby season, originally involved two teams of male junior rugby players at the Waihora Rugby Club in Tai Tapu, with funding from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation.

However, Professor Draper, has received $120,000 in additional funding from the Neurological Foundation allowing him to widen the study to include more than 20 female players from the Prebbleton Rugby Football Club Under-17 Senior Girls’ team.

He says there are likely to be significant differences between male and female rugby players beyond factors such as players’ size and running speed, so having female participants will provide valuable information.

Professor Draper says there is rising concern from parents and the rugby union community about the health risks associated with head collisions.

“I think as researchers, and as a university, we have a responsibility to the community to find ways to make the game safer for our children.

“Three-quarters of our active rugby players are juniors, so developing a deeper understanding of collisions in rugby is a really important area of research.”

Neurological Society head of research Dr Sarah Schonberger says the project is timely and will provide significant data for concussion research and healthcare.

“As we see growing evidence from adult contact sport that head injuries increase the risk of neurological disorders, we want to do everything we can to make sport safer and reduce the risk of our athletes experiencing these disorders in the future.

“We are really excited to not only be supporting a study in young people, but young female athletes. This is an area where research is desperately needed. If we know the effects of head impacts on both males and females from a young age, we have the greatest chance of protecting them from neurological disorders in the future.”

Prebbleton Rugby Football Club Senior Girls’ head coach Kevin Scovell says the players are keen to be involved.

“It’s a great study to be part of because concussion is such an important issue. It will also mean that we’re one of the most well-looked after teams in the union. The club fully supports this research and has allowed us to go ahead with it.”

Players taking part in the study can choose whether they want to take part wearing World Rugby approved NPro headgear, or without headgear.

They will also wear special mouthguards equipped with sensors to measure peak accelerations that occur during collisions at training and in matches. Collision events, which will also be videoed, will be recreated in the laboratory to assess their impact.

The trials will try to accurately assess the number and size of collisions in rugby and find out if wearing World Rugby approved headgear can reduce ‘peak acceleration’ collision forces.

MRI scans will be carried out on the player pre-season, post-season and after any concussive collision as part of the research. Supported with a grant from Pacific Radiology, the scans will help detect any changes in the brain as a result of collisions.

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