• Six Nations 2019: How Rugby Players Are at Risk of Brain Trauma

Six Nations 2019: How Rugby Players Are at Risk of Brain Trauma

February  2019 / 7 2 Comments

Athletes are notorious for getting themselves into injurious situations. Just think about Anderson Silva seriously snapping his leg in the UFC 168, or French gymnast Samir Ait Said breaking his fibula and tibia bones in the 2016 Olympics. The Rugby players taking part in the Six Nations are no exception — far from it.

It’s every player, coach and fans worst nightmare to see powerful players bow out due to injury. The 2019 Six Nations is set to see many more casualties as the championship continues until the 16th March.

However, unlike American football players, rugby players are not required to wear any sort of protective gear. It seems crazy, right? Both American football players and rugby players are basically plunging themselves into a brick wall, repeatedly. These men are big, brave, bulky and quite honestly, badass. Although, it isn’t so badass when you consider the brain trauma that can soon follow after continuous head injuries.

One stark difference between the two is vital — Protective gear.

American footballers require heavy protective equipment such as:

  • Knee, hip and shoulder pads
  • A padded vest
  • Helmet consisting of hard plastic with thick padding on the inside
  • Gumshield
  • Rugby players will sometimes wear equipment such as:

  • Sometimes shoulder pads, sometimes not
  • Gumshield
  • Well, I know which method of protection I would choose when coming face to face with someone three times the size of me!

    What do Rugby Players Have to Say?

    If you know the rules of rugby, you’ll know that contact can only happen when a player is in possession of the ball — meaning that whatever contact they connect with, they’re expecting it. As well as this, intentional forward passes are not allowed, which lessens the chance of a player getting tackled from behind.

    Let’s keep in mind that the average player is between 90 – 100kg…Which is bloody huge. Taking this into consideration, just imagine facing another colossal man of that weight, head first…over, and over again — without any helmet.

    It’s the laws of physics that if you’re a bigger player, you’re going to have bigger collisions. So much so, that concussion rates have risen drastically by an outstanding 400% in the last decade.

    To use former Wales forward Jonathan Thomas as a prime example, he had to retire against his wishes after recurrent concussions had left him with epilepsy. Being a part of a rugby team, Thomas admits that when you’re in that kind of team atmosphere, that you willingly take an injury mid-game and continue on, no matter what;

    “You need that mindset as a pro to play on despite niggles and injuries…But if I’d known back then what I know now about head trauma I would have handled many situations very differently. I hope players and coaches can learn these lessons and change the way they react to head injury.”

    In fact, former Scotland captain Kelly Brown has also had his input regarding the Six Nations 2019. Since sanctions have become tougher on high tackles in an attempt to reduce brain trauma, some have claimed that the sport is becoming ‘soft’. Brown has stated that he understands exactly why the law has changed;

    “Some of the penalties look a bit soft but that’s because they’re trying to change the behaviors of players…The change in the laws is almost to protect players from themselves….Every tackle, carry, breakdown is almost like a car crash…Big men smashing into each other. The sheer force can never be doubted.”

    Brain Injury and Developing Dementia: The Risk

    As a rugby player, it’s no question that you continue to play on despite injury. Whether that’s to do with ego or sportsmanship, who knows. However, are the players totally aware of the permanent brain damage that can occur if they do decide to continue playing after a concussion?

    Traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and even dementia is possible with contact sport. It may not happen to the individual straight away, but most commonly after retirement.

    Clinical trials and one of the largest examinations on the connection between TBI and mental decline in later life have been concluded. US and Danish researchers have revealed that “the younger a person was when sustaining a head injury, the higher the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia”.

    Neurologist, Dr. Willie Steward, who was interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland’s Sports Nation programme has also reported that; “On current evidence from American football and boxing I think it would be foolish to think there will be no problem and that rugby is immune from brain damage…If we say it’s 1 per cent of people playing at international rugby level, then in any Six Nations weekend that’s one or two players who could go on to develop a dementia they wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to…The dementia pugilistica stats would say that somewhere between 15% and 20% of boxers who retire after a long career will develop the dementia. I don’t believe rugby is anywhere near that category, but even if its only 1% that’s a concern”.

    For those that currently play rugby or any other contact sport that could result in brain injury, please take note. Your health is more important than the win, whether you believe that to be true or not. If you’re not in physical and mental shape, a win will not be possible. If you have been concussed during a match, take it upon yourself to take a breather and step out for the rest of the game.

    Have a look at how cannabis and CBD is actually helping to prevent onset CTE, TBI and dementia for American footballers. More athletes are coming forward and exposing that organisations do not inform you enough about the damage that can unfortunately happen.

    It’s up to you to do your research and keep your brain in a healthy condition, early on in life. Brain trauma is no joke and although you may be having fun at the time, it’s later down the line that you may suffer from the repercussions.

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