Concussion in Rugby Union and the role of biomechanics

Gregory J Tierney, Ciaran K Simms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Due to the physical and high-impact nature of rugby, head impacts can occur within the game which can result in concussion injuries as well as other moderate-to-severe head injuries 1. Concussion has been defined as “a complex pathophysiological process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces”1 and was found to be one of the more common brain injuries throughout the world.2 This is particularly true in sport; it has been estimated that over half of all concussions are sports related.3 A systematic review of the incidence of concussion in contact sports found that rugby union has a higher incidence rate compared with other sports such as American football and soccer.4

Unlike other sports injuries, detecting a concussion is difficult as the neuropathological changes cannot be recognized on standard neuroimaging technology.5,6 \Therefore, if a player is suspected of having a concussion, they are removed from play for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA). The HIA is a standardized tool for the medical assessment of concussion injuries in rugby and aims to improve detection and patient education.7 The HIA assesses a range of degenerative concussive symptoms including memory, cognitive ability, balance and player discomfort. This concussion diagnosis protocol therefore relies heavily on side-line medical staff to identify if a player is exhibiting concussive symptoms. A major disadvantage to this is that concussion has a variable natural history, with transient, fluctuating, delayed and evolving signs or symptoms.8) This means that symptoms can take up to 48 hours to become apparent.8 It has therefore been acknowledged that the content of the HIA will be modified as the research around concussion diagnosis evolves.8

The reliance on side-line medical staff to accurately identify concussive symptoms means that there is a possibility a concussed player may remain on the field; this is one problem that biomechanical research into concussion is trying to overcome. This study will give an overview of concussion in rugby union with a focus on incidence, severity and protection strategies. It will discuss current biomechanical research and further biomechanical research required in the area of concussion injuries in rugby union.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-95
Number of pages9
JournalRes Medica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2017


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