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Increase in Rugby Head Injuries Builds Awareness of Players’ Wellbeing

By Principal Lawyer, Personal Injury

With an increase in reported concussions in rugby, players’ wellbeing is at risk as the consequence of repeated injury.

The matter of personal injury in sport – namely rugby – has been placed under the microscope of social media since rugby world looked on with bated breath as Welsh Rugby Union player, George North was knocked unconscious following a head-on collision in the Six Nations opening game.

Rugby, by nature, involves a relatively high risk of injury. As a contact sport, players anticipate the culture of hard knocks that come in the game. It is often said that, as a professional player, you never play at 100% fitness due to injuries.

One need only watch former international England star Jonny Wilkinson take a pummelling from the giant, Opeti Fonua, in which he was knocked unconscious, only to be passed as fit to play to the applause of the crowd, to question the wellbeing of players following such injuries. Speaking on his health in retirement, Wilkinson looked back at other injuries sustained during his career (after which he continued playing) and stated, “I could have thrown my life away with concussions.”

An Increase in Reported Head Injuries

Rugby has seen a 59% increase in reported concussions, as reported in the annual injury audit. Speculation suggests this rise comes from an increase in knowledge of head injuries, meaning that medical staff and players alike are better prepared for the recognition and treatment of head injuries that could result in concussions or brain damage.

Dr Simon Kemp, the Rugby Football Union's chief medical officer, stated, "There is greater awareness by players as to what their symptoms mean and a willingness to declare those symptoms to club doctors. There is also a greater understanding by club medical staff as to how to diagnose and recognise concussion."

One factor that may well attribute to the rise in risk of injury is the increasing size of rugby players.

Last season 13% of players experienced concussion, with concussions comprising an eighth of all sustained rugby injuries. 23 players retired prematurely due to injury, with the average recovery time increasing to 26 days. Further research from Dr Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research and Policy at Queen Mary University of London, reveals that school rugby has a 17% risk of injury for young students throughout a season.

Slater and Gordon Lawyer Paul Kitson said, “The rugby world is slowly waking up to the risks of playing on after a concussion injury. George North’s recent injury in the Six Nations match against England underlines that there is a need for greater use of technology and more education of players. It was obvious to the millions who watched the match on television that North had sustained a significant concussive injury, yet the pitch-side medics were unaware that this had happened and North played on.”

Paul Kitson is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation about sports injury claims and most cases are funded through a No Win, No Fee agreement. Call freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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