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Irish study shows balance test can help reduce risk of concussion in elite rugby players

Rugby players with poorer balance were three times more likely to suffer a concussion in the study on professional players here.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

RUGBY PLAYERS WITH poorer balance were three times more likely to sustain a concussion, according to findings in a recently published study.

The conclusions of the study suggest that risk of concussion can be reduced for players, if the athlete works to improve ‘modifiable factors’ of balance and strength.

Simply put, if a player has better balance and better control of their body, then they are less likely to engage in a tackle with poor technique. And so, as tacklers have consistently been shown make up the majority of concussions in rugby, the risk of head injuries are greatly reduced.

“Some work that came out from World Rugby in recent years has shown that the tackler is at a higher risk of sustaining an injury and about 70% of concussions in rugby happen to the tackler,” the paper’s lead author William Johnston tells The42. 

If you could spot players at higher risk, do that bit of balance, strength and tackle technique training you might be able to reduce their risk.” 

The research, a joint venture between UCD’s Insight Centre for data analytics and the IRFU, points to a two-pronged approach of improving balance and strength as well as tackle technique to decrease risk to the player.

The study highlights modifiable factors in concussion risk. It was based on a group of 109 elite Irish rugby players – a mix of professionals across four provinces and Ireland U20s.

The players’ baseline balance was tested ahead of the 2016/17 season using a sensor worn on the lower back.

The findings showed that players with ‘sub-optimal’ balance performance at baseline, were at three-times greater relative risk of sustaining a concussion during the season – even when controlling for a player’s personal injury history.

“We know people who have had a history of concussion are at a higher risk – about two or three times higher than someone who doesn’t have a history of concussion,” adds Johnston.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine this month, and Johnston notes that his study is in line with findings from the University of Bath. That research observed a 59% decrease in concussive injuries after a programme of targeted balance, strength and movement exercises. 

The researchers involved in the study hope to confirm the hypothesis with future research, not just in men’s and women’s rugby, but across a range of sports. Johnston has already began working with American football players to expand his research.

“These findings,” says IRFU medical director Rod McLoughlin, “would suggest that targeted movement control interventions may reduce an individual’s risk of sustaining a subsequent concussion, decreasing the burden of injury and protecting player welfare.”

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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