Foundation research

Drake Foundation research indicates a quarter of rugby players may have brain damage

According to new research, half of elite adult rugby players have shown an unexpected reduction in brain volume and almost a quarter have abnormalities in brain structure.

The Drake Foundation, which funded the study led by Imperial College London, called for rule changes to protect players from concussion risks. The research team – working with rugby union and league clubs across the UK – used advanced neuroimaging techniques to examine the brains of current elite rugby players compared to control subjects who do not practice this sport.

The results, published in the journal brain communications, found an association between participation in elite rugby and changes in brain structure. The study, the first of its kind, involved 44 rugby players (41 men) from seven unnamed clubs who had suffered a mild injury.

The research found that 23% experienced changes in their brain structure, specifically in neural wiring (white matter) and brain blood vessels, while 50% showed an unexpected reduction in brain volume.

The Rugby Football Union, which supported the study, said it would undertake more research into head impact exposure and long-term brain health, along with a number of other plans to make to the risks for rugby players. The Drake Foundation has invested more than $4 million in studying the long- and short-term effects of rugby on brain health.

“I have been passionate about sport since I was a young boy, but I have seen in recent years how the power of sport has intensified and the very obvious effects it can have on elite athletes,” said said James Drake, founder of the Drake Foundation.

“I have invested in research on the relationship between head impacts in sport and the brain health of players for nearly a decade because I am concerned about the long-term brain health of athletes, including athletes. elite rugby players.

“Common sense dictates that the number and ferocity of impacts, both in practice and in actual play, should be significantly reduced. These latest results reinforce this notion, especially when combined with existing findings in sport and anecdotal evidence.

“Since the professionalisation of rugby in the 1990s, the game has changed beyond recognition. Players are now generally bigger and more powerful, so we need to be aware of any ramifications the increased impacts will have on their bodies.