Global Rugby Health Research Programme

Our Vision
Collaboration of researchers focused on projects to help build international communities of healthy current and retired rugby players.

The Global Rugby Health Research Programme
World Rugby, New Zealand Rugby and AUT led the inaugural NZ RugbyHealth Project that explored the longer-term health impacts of playing rugby. To extend the findings of the impact of rugby history on general health and cognitive functioning a Global Rugby Health Research Progamme is now being launched.

The Global Rugby Health Research Programme involves countries collaborating to investigate the long term health of retired rugby players. The programme is being led by Principal Investigators Professor Patria Hume and Dr Doug King from AUT, and Dr Karen Hind from Leeds Beckett University. Additional Co-Principal Investigators for the country projects in the Global Rugby Health Research Programme are:

  • New Zealand: Associate Professor Gwyn Lewis, Associate Professor Alice Theadom (AUT)
  • UK: Prof Richard Aspden and Dr Jenny Gregory (University of Aberdeen), Ian Entwistle, Mr Costas Tsakirides, Dr Michelle Swainson, Dr Antonis Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou (Leeds Beckett)
  • Canada: Professor Patrick Neary (University of Regina) and Dr Steve Martin (University of Victoria)
  • Australia: Dr Adrian Cohen (HeadSafe) and Dr Clare Fraser (Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney), Dr Alan Pearce (La Trobe University).

The NZ RugbyHealth Project neuropsychological health assessment study, published in Sports Medicine, showed that players who experienced one or more concussions during their career were less able to understand and process information quickly, to make rapid decisions, to switch attention between tasks and to track and respond to information over long periods of time than players with no history of concussion.  Participants in the two rugby groups were found to have sustained substantially more concussions than the non-contact sport group; 85% of elite rugby players reported having had at least one concussion, while the rate among community rugby players was 77% and 23% for non-contact sport players. Both rugby groups studied performed worse on executive functioning and cognitive flexibility than the non-contact sport group. The elite rugby group also performed worse than the non-contact sport group on complex attention and processing speed. With the exception of reaction time, the average values for all three former player groups on all tests were within normal ranges provided by the CNS-VS age-matched normative database. The project also found elite rugby players had different corticomotor function, however there was no evidence that this was related to previous concussions, in the brain excitability assessment study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
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Professor Patria Hume said “It is significant that the WR/NZR/AUT NZ RugbyHealth Project is going international to address the growing public interest in the long term health outcomes of playing rugby. We would like to know if the health outcomes we found in New Zealand retired rugby players is also evident in other countries. Each country collaborative team is also adding to the core general health and neurological health studies so that we can gain additional information on blood biomarkers, brain and bone health in particular.”

The UK Rugby Health project launched in September 2016, was the first expansion of the inaugural New Zealand RugbyHealth project. The UK Rugby Health project is investigating the long term health (bone, joint, cardiometabolic and neurological) and cognitive functioning of retired rugby players. The study will be using blood analysis, balance assessment, bone health, musculoskeletal health and brain health clinic tests. The UK Rugby Health project has been funded by AUT from a strategic investment fund into the Rugby Codes Research Group, and from Leeds Beckett University.

In February 2017 Canada joined the research programme with Prof Patrick Neary (Regina) and Dr Steve Martin (Victoria) starting to recruit participants to look at general health and cognitive functioning plus clinical assessment of blood biomarkers and brain health.

In March 2017 Australia has joined the programme with Dr Adrian Cohen (Headsafe), Dr Clare Fraser (University of Sydney), and Dr Alan Pearce (La Trobe University), starting the ethics application to enable data collection for the health and cognitive functioning, and clinical assessment of the concussion, blood biomarkers, bone health and brain health.

While the New Zealand, UK and Canada studies are focused on rugby players, the Australian study will also include athletes whose primary sport is not rugby, so that Australian Rules Football, soccer, equestrian and other sports can be compared, providing a unique cross-sport analysis of the long term effects of participation.

To take part in the Global Rugby Health Research Programme core tests of general health and cognitive functioning, retired players and retired non-contact athletes from the UK, Canada (and soon from Australia pending ethics) are invited to sign up via http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/ukrugbyhealth/. There is the general health questionnaire (GHQ) and the online neurocognitive test (CNS Vital Signs).