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Researchers to investigate health of retired rugby players


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The long-term health effects of playing rugby will be investigated in a research study, launched by sports scientists at Leeds Beckett University.

Rugby Players

The research led by experts at the Carnegie Research Institute at Leeds Beckett, alongside researchers at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and the University of Aberdeen, will examine links between concussions, wellbeing, neuropsychological, neurocognitive and neuromuscular health in retired professional and amateur rugby union and rugby league players across the UK. The project will also explore muscle, bone, joint and cardiometabolic health in the former players.

The researchers are looking to recruit as many men over 30 as possible, who have been involved in rugby union or rugby league either as a professional, semi-professional or as an amateur.

Speaking about the study, UK RugbyHealth, Dr Karen Hind, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, said: “A life of rugby provides so many benefits for those taking part – for some it’s a career, for all it’s about friendship, enjoyment, good health and fitness and a lifelong love of the game. Along the way, as with any physical pursuit, there are knocks, niggles and injuries – some more severe than others.

“Our project will examine links between concussions and future health, but it is also a broad study of how people who played rugby are getting on later in life. We have previously found vertebral fractures in 1 out of 3 current professional players so we will also be exploring this in retired players.

“We need people to enrol regardless of how they are getting on - whether they are happy and healthy or having difficulty with any aspect of their lives. We also need people who haven't taken part in rugby post school so that we can compare findings. The results of the UK project will be combined with results from the recently completed New Zealand Rugby Health Study to strengthen confidence in the findings.”

The New Zealand Rugby Health project (NZ RugbyHealth), funded by World Rugby, New Zealand Rugby, and Auckland University of Technology in 2012, was led by Professor Patria Hume. The study found that NZ former rugby players had more injuries resulting in hospitalisation, more concussions, more general health issues including cardiovascular issues currently, more arthritis, more hazardous alcohol drinking behaviour, performed worse on neurocognitive tests, and had altered cortical motor excitation and inhibition, than the non-contact sport comparison group. The neurocognitive (CNSVS) study part of the project, published last month in the Sports Medicine journal, showed that players who experienced one or more concussions during their career were less able to understand and process information quickly, to make rapid decisions, to switch attention between tasks and to track and respond to information over long periods of time.

Patria Hume, Professor of Human Performance at the Auckland University of Technology said: “The extension of the NZ RugbyHealth study to the UK RugbyHealth study is important to determine whether there are similar findings in players outside of New Zealand. Given our study found more self-reported arthritis and cardiovascular issues in the former rugby players, the clinical assessments of the UK players for neuromuscular, bone, joint and cardiometabolic health will provide vital detail of current health in these areas. The NZ RugbyHealth study assessed rugby union players, while the UK RugbyHealth study will also include rugby league former players.”

To take part in the UK project, there are two online questionnaires to complete – one neurocognitive (CNSVS) test and one which explores general health.

The clinical assessments take place at Leeds Beckett and include bone, joint and body composition evaluation by state-of-the-art dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), strength and neuromuscular assessments and a cardiometabolic examination by blood test and electrocardiogram (ECG).

Dr Hind added: ''We are grateful to the Carnegie Research Development Fund, AUT, Biosense, Natus and Tekscan for providing support to this important project. We now need people to take part. All those who do take part will receive copies of their own results and project reports will be provided to the rugby governing bodies. There is also a £350 cash prize draw for all respondents with several runner's up prizes.”

Details on how to take part in the research can be found at www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/ukrugbyhealth.

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