Risk factors for head injury events in professional rugby union: a video analysis of 464 head injury events to inform proposed injury prevention strategies

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Abstract

Objectives

The tackle is responsible for the majority of head injuries during rugby union. In order to address head injury risk, risk factors during the tackle must first be identified. This study analysed tackle characteristics in the professional game in order to inform potential interventions.

Methods

464 tackles resulting in a head injury assessment (HIA) were analysed in detail, with tackle type, direction, speed, acceleration, nature of head contact and player body position the characteristics of interest.

Results

Propensity to cause an HIA was significantly greater for active shoulder tackles, front-on tackles, high speeder tackles and an accelerating tackler. Head contact between a tackler’s head and ball carrier’s head or shoulder was significantly more likely to cause an HIA than contact below the level of the shoulder (incident rate ratio (IRR) 4.25, 95%–CI 3.38 to 5.35). The tackler experiences the majority (78%) of HIAs when head-to-head contact occurs. An upright tackler was 1.5 times more likely to experience an HIA than a bent at the waist tackler (IRR 1.44, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.76).

Conclusions

This study confirms that energy transfer in the tackle is a risk factor for head injury, since direction, type and speed all influence HIA propensity. The study provides evidence that body position and the height of tackles should be a focus for interventions, since lowering height and adopting a bent at the waist body position is associated with reduced risk for both tacklers and ball carriers. To this end, World Rugby has implemented law change based on the present data.

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