Neurosurgeon calls for action against head injury in youth rugby


A British pediatric neurosurgeon has renewed the concussion conversation in England by publishing an editorial in the British Medical Journal about the dangers inherent in rugby, particularly among youth.


This is hardly the first time that the head injury dialogue has spread to international sports, but the pointed and thoughtful analysis of Dr. Michael Carter of the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children as a doctor and parent have revitalized the debate. Here’s an excerpt:


In UK schools where rugby is played, it mostly begins as a near compulsory activity from the age of 8 years. By 10 years, most players engage in some form of contact competition, increasing the potential for injury. Many players are relatively unskilled; avoidance of injury requires considerable skills that not all children acquire. Squads may contain children of similar age but vastly different physical stature.


Schools, coaches, and parents all contribute to a tribal, gladiatorial culture that encourages excessive aggression, suppresses injury reporting, and encourages players to carry on when injured. It is fascinating how rugby sidesteps many safeguards intended to ensure pupil wellbeing. Schools now require comprehensive risk assessments for seemingly innocuous activities, yet every Saturday teams of children square up against each other in contests that may result in severe injuries to some.


He said that by far rugby yielded the most injuries requiring neurosurgical consultation of any youth sport, and he gave some concrete, practical ways to improve safety. For instance, he called for changes in strength and conditioning training and even match scheduling to prepare children’s bodies better and for more safeguards during the phases of the game where head injuries are most likely, among several other suggestions.


He’s not the first to bring the dangers of head injuries in youth to the attention of the public, but we’d like to commend him for his honest and frank evaluation along with concrete suggestions on how to better the sport. Perhaps, thanks to him, young rugby players will be able to play it safer in the future.


*Scientists have no conclusive evidence as to whether or how the reduction of g-forces during impacts reduces the number or degree of concussions and head injuries. GelDefender products provide supplemental padding as well as cooling and comfort benefits when used with helmets and caps. Participants in activities in which head impacts can occur should always use tested and approved helmets for protection. However, no helmet or supplemental padding can protect the user from all serious head or neck injuries that can result from impacts.