In any contact sport, head injury is an inevitable risk. Rugby is no exception, and concussions are a serious concern when it comes to player welfare.
Rugby players sometimes wear protective headgear believing it protects against head injuries. However, such protective gear in rugby has serious limitations, and research has found that it might do more harm than good.
The Risk of Concussions in Rugby
A major difference between football and rugby is the amount of protective gear the sport offers. Football players wear large pads and helmets, whereas rugby players wear minimal to no padding, a mouth guard and sometimes a thin helmet.
The risk of sustaining a concussion in rugby is higher when compared to other contact sports, such as ice hockey or American football.
About 1,200 people suffer head injuries while playing rugby each year. Two-thirds of these injuries are either concussions or brain injuries. In total, more than 50,000 people seek medical attention for rugby injuries each year, costing patients about $60 million in medical expenses.
Do Scrum Caps Prevent Concussions?
Although rugby players sometimes wear protective headgear with the belief that it will prevent head injuries, research has shown it offers no significant protection against concussions.
Some rugby players opt to use a type of headgear called a scrum cap. A scrum cap is ideal for protecting the ears and reducing superficial head injuries, including lacerations and abrasions.
Many believe concussions are caused by a blow to the head. However, concussions result from neural whiplash, whereby the entire head accelerates and bruises or damages the brain. Scrum caps simply can’t protect against this. For this reason, it is a misconception to believe they are effective at preventing concussions.
Several studies found no difference in concussion rates between players who did and did not wear scrum caps. Of the rugby players who regularly wore scrum caps, 63% reported concussions while 55% who did not wear headgear experienced concussions.
Scrum Caps Give Players False Sense of Security
Players who wear scrum caps said they feel more confident on the field. Because of this, they are more likely to behave recklessly on the field.
Several studies found that 67% of youth players felt more confident and able to tackle harder when wearing scrum caps, while 16% of senior players who believed scrum caps protected against concussions were four times more likely to play aggressively.
A doctor for the British boxing team and a leading member of the medical team at the London Olympics in 2012, Dr. Mike Loosemore has pushed for the removal of headguards in amateur boxing. He hopes that other contact sports like rugby avoid making the same mistake with ineffective headgear.
“Headguards give an illusion of safety. If you think you are protected by a headguard, you are more likely to put your head where it shouldn’t be.” – Dr. Mike Loosemore
According to Loosemore, “Headguards give an illusion of safety. If you think you are protected by a headguard, you are more likely to put your head where it shouldn’t be.”
Scrum Cap Claims to Protect Against Injury
One company, N-pro, built a new kind of scrum cap specifically created to prevent head injury during rugby. The creators claimed it could reduce the impact forces that cause concussions by 75 percent.
However, expert Dr. Mike Loosemore later labeled the scrum cap as “potentially extremely dangerous.”
“I think it’s extremely dangerous to start proposing children wear these things because what you might actually be doing and what a lot of the scientific evidence shows is that if you put kids in helmets, they get more head injuries. It’s a case of people trying to make a profit or do the right thing without testing it in real life situations,” said Loosemore.
Peter Robinson lost his 14-year-old son, Ben, after he sustained fatal injuries during a rugby game in 2011.
According to Robinson, “Ben effectively got whiplash. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was wearing headgear or not. It is wrong to give the false impression people are invincible when they run on to a field. World Rugby needs to show leadership on this subject. All this headgear does is reduce cuts, abrasions and cauliflower ears.”
Robinson has urged parents to understand that scrum caps like the N-Pro do not protect against head injury and may offer a false sense of security.
Preventing Concussion During Rugby
Continued sports education is vital for ensuring players understand headgear limitations and the dangers of reckless behavior on the field.
One solution that has proven effective at reducing injury rates is player and coach education on strategies for hitting and tackling safely. This is especially true among youth players. Two programs — the RugbySmart scheme in New Zealand and the BokSmart scheme in South Africa — share similar structures, aiming to educate teams. The Boksmart intervention helped reduce catastrophic injuries by 40% in a group of youth players.
Research has found that youth players value proper tackle training and learning techniques to help reduce injury. Coaches who teach children proper techniques from a young age contribute to safer tackling maneuvers as players advance in the sport.
How a Brain Injury Attorney Can Help
Unfortunately, brain injuries in contact sports are common. If you or a loved one suffered a concussion or brain injury that you believe was a result of another’s negligence, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to help you through this difficult time.