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How Does Rugby Affect The Brain?

In recognition of World Head Injury Awareness Day on 20 March, Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, explores how rugby can impact the brain and what steps can be taken to prevent head injuries.

The Impact of Rugby on the Brain

Rugby is a popular contact sport that involves physical tackles and collisions. While it can be an exciting and challenging sport, there are concerns about how it affects the brain.

Based on research, rugby players face a significantly higher risk of developing life-threatening neurological diseases. They are over two times more likely to experience dementia and have a 15-fold higher risk of developing motor neuron disease than the general population.

Rugby injuries in school-aged children are of particular concern. A study published in the South African Journal of Sports Medicine found that school rugby players are at a high risk of injury. The study also found that head and neck injuries were the most severe injuries among school rugby players.

“When players collide in a rugby game, the impact can cause the brain to move inside the skull, leading to various types of brain injury,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“These injuries can range from mild concussions to more serious traumatic brain injuries.”


A concussion is a type of brain injury that results from a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to shake inside the skull.

Symptoms of a concussion can include headaches, dizziness, confusion, memory problems, and sensitivity to light or noise. In some cases, a concussion may cause loss of consciousness.

Repeated concussions can lead to long-term brain damage, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma and can cause symptoms such as memory loss, depression, and dementia.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a more severe type of brain injury that can result from a blow to the head or body. TBIs can cause various symptoms, including loss of consciousness, seizures, difficulty speaking or understanding language, and paralysis.

TBIs can be life-threatening, and even those who recover from a TBI may experience long-term effects, such as cognitive impairment, mood changes, and difficulty with daily activities.

Prevention of Head Injuries in Rugby

While rugby is deemed a high-impact sport, you can take some steps to prevent head injuries. These include the following.


Proper training: Rugby players should receive appropriate training to tackle and protect themselves from harm. Coaches should emphasise the importance of proper technique and ensure players understand the risks of head injuries.


Protective gear: Players should wear appropriate protective gear, such as helmets and mouthguards. These items can help absorb collisions and impact and protect the head and mouth from injury.


Rule changes: Rugby governing bodies can implement rule changes to reduce the risk of head injuries. For example, some leagues have introduced stricter penalties for dangerous tackles and have limited the number of substitutions that can be made during a game.


Education and awareness: Players, coaches, and parents should be educated about the signs and symptoms of head injuries and the importance of seeking medical attention if an injury is suspected. They should also be aware of the potential long-term effects of repeated head trauma.


“By prioritising player safety and taking proactive steps to prevent head injuries, we can continue to enjoy the excitement and challenge of rugby while minimising the risks to the brain,” concludes Hewlett.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health insurance provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our range of healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to always give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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