After a study revealed that former international players are 15 times more likely to acquire motor neuron disease, experts urged that rugby officials must take immediate measures to avoid head injuries.
Researchers examined a group of former Scottish internationals and discovered that, on average, the ex-players had a 2.5 times greater likelihood of developing neurodegenerative illness than the general population.
Numerous studies have shown a connection between brain traumas and an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease development, as well as the higher risk of these illnesses among former professional sportsmen.
As worries mount, a number of former athletes have made the decision to file lawsuits against many regulating organizations for allegedly neglecting to shield them from long-term harm.
In the most recent study, a group from the University of Glasgow and more than 1,200 matched members of the general community examined the health outcomes of 412 Scottish-born male former international rugby players.
The findings, which were reported in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, revealed that although former players’ average ages at death were marginally higher than those of their matched controls, they also had a greater probability of receiving a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative illness.
By sub-type, the danger changes, but not by player position. The chance of acquiring Parkinson’s disease is three times higher than the risk of having motor neurone disease.
Willie Stewart, a specialist neuropathologist in Glasgow, said the study “provides greater insight into the relationship between contact sports and the risk of neurodegenerative illness.”
The evidence showing that rugby players are at an even greater risk of developing motor neurone disease than former professional football players is very alarming and warrants urgent study attention.
According to the Motor Neurone Condition Association, the disease affects up to 5,000 persons at a time in the UK, with a lifetime chance of MND of 1 in 300.
The researchers noted that the majority of the rugby players analyzed were amateurs who played before the sport went professional in 1995. They added that the paper’s results correspond with those of other studies of former professional football players and American football players.
They said that this demonstrated that hazards did not only apply to professional sports.
Former professional football players had a significantly higher risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease than the general population, according to Stewart’s earlier research. Stewart expressed concern that rugby players would face even greater risks in the professional era with more matches being played.
He said, “Rugby has discussed and is doing a lot about managing head injuries and talking about if it might decrease exposure to impact throughout the week.
“I believe such discussions have been going on for a long time, and the rate of advancement is fairly modest.”
“They should be talking about constraining it as much as possible, cutting down on the amount of rugby we’re watching, and getting rid of as much training as possible,” he said, “instead of talking about extending seasons and adding new tournaments and worldwide seasons.”
Stewart emphasized the decrease in contact training while claiming that American football has made quick progress.
He stated, “I believe rugby may be accelerating this rate of development. “I know it’s difficult to consider having less rugby rather than more, but sometimes less is better.
“Instead of relying just on quantity, maybe you might produce a better-quality product if the athletes are healthier and less injured.
So, in my opinion, rugby has to give this some thought. You can’t keep subjecting young people to what they have already gone through, especially because we now know from the amateur period that there is a danger of brain damage.
Brian Dickie, head of research development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, praised the results but emphasized that further research must be done in much bigger groups.
The amount of genetic risk may be different among high performance athletes compared to the general population, he added. “We know that the great majority of cases of MND contain a complicated combination of genetic and environmental risk factors,” he said.