New Links Found Between Rugby and Brain Injuries

Returning to a series of articles we ran earlier in the year, there has been new evidence discovered to suggest that rugby players are at greater risk of early onset dementia the longer they play.

Research conducted by Dr Willie Stewart of the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow discovered that “one or two” players competing in the Six Nations every year may go on to develop the condition. By examining brain tissue of a former rugby player and a former boxer for abnormal proteins associated with head injuries and dementia, Dr Stewart concluded that the rugby player had higher levels than the boxer.

The boxer exhibited symptoms of dementia pugilistica (‘punch drunk’ syndrome), whereas the rugby player, now in his 50s, had early onset dementia. His brain showed a number of abnormal proteins comparable to that of a young man who had suffered a “moderate to severe” head injury during an assault.

George North Lions Rugby Players

Dr Stewart did clarify that he believed the percentage of rugby players likely to be affected is far lower than boxing, American football and ice hockey – in which repeated head traumas can be sustained or built up in the course of a single match alone – however was keen to stress that: “On current evidence coming from American studies, from looking at American football, our historical evidence looking at boxers throughout the world, I think it would be foolish to think there will be no problem and that rugby is immune from brain damage.”

The findings detail that even if only 1% of international rugby players are affected; that means one or two players per year may go on to develop a dementia that they would otherwise not have been exposed to.

As greater light is shed on such potentially devastating head injury claims, more professionals and ex-professionals are becoming aware of the problem. Former Scotland international and BBC Scotland pundit John Beattie said: “People are beginning to think ‘here is somebody with early onset dementia who may have played rugby and I’ve heard something about head injuries and I wonder if these are linked”.

The primary advice still remains that if a player feels he or she has contracted a concussion then sit out the rest of the game until fully recovered. Second-impact syndrome, a second head injury that follows before the head and brain have fully recovered can have devastating effects, as seen in America in the case of Jaquan Waller in 2008. The nature of professionals means that they are often unlikely to leave the field of play in such circumstances, though continuing to play on without receiving the proper treatment can be fatal.

As Dr Stewart said: “Just as we discourage people from playing on with a damaged knee, even more so we would really try not to have people carry on with a damaged brain.”

If you have been involved in a sporting injury and wish to seek legal advice, then please get in contact today on 0800 083 5500.