New Study Links Rugby to Increased Risk of Brain Disease
A recent study has revealed a concerning link between rugby and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. The research, which analyzed the brains of 31 former rugby union players, found that the risk of developing CTE increases with each year of rugby played and repeated head knocks sustained.
CTE, believed to be caused by repeated head injuries that damage brain tissue by slamming the brain into the side of the skull, is a condition whose symptoms typically manifest later in life. These symptoms include memory problems, mood changes, depression, and dementia. Alarmingly, some individuals as young as 17 have already been diagnosed with the condition.
Of the brains examined in the study, approximately 68% showed signs of CTE. The study also found that the length of a player’s rugby career was directly linked to their risk of developing the disease, with each additional year of play increasing the risk by 14%. This suggests that even non-concussive head knocks sustained throughout a player’s career can contribute to the brain changes that lead to CTE.
Researchers are now emphasizing the urgent need to reduce the number and strength of head impacts in contact sports like rugby in order to prevent CTE. The evidence presented by this study adds to the growing body of research highlighting the risk of CTE in contact sports.
While rugby union has been found to have a particularly high risk of concussion compared to other contact sports, there have been fewer reported cases of CTE in former rugby players. Nevertheless, the study emphasizes that repeated hits to the head, regardless of concussion symptoms, remain the primary risk factor for developing CTE.
Previous research on football players has also demonstrated a relationship between the number and force of head impacts, as well as the length of players’ careers, and the risk of developing CTE. Consequently, changes to how football players practice and play, such as reducing head impacts, could potentially lower the risk of CTE.
The study, published in Acta Neuropathologica, adds valuable evidence to the ongoing discussion surrounding CTE and its association with contact sports. As the link between rugby and this debilitating brain disease becomes clearer, it becomes increasingly crucial for the sporting community to prioritize player safety and implement measures to protect athletes from the long-term consequences of repeated head knocks.
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