New evidence on rugby brain risk

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy risk is hugely increased amongst longstanding rugby players, according to the findings of a major study published today.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow joined US and Australian researchers in the study, which has followed up earlier findings on neurodegenerative risk.

The researchers conducted detailed postmortem studies of brains donated from 31 amateur and elite rugby union players. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found in 68% of the brains – and affected both amateur and elite players, the researchers report in Acta Neuropathologica.

They estimate that each additional year of playing added 14% to the risk of developing the condition.

Those in the study had average playing careers of 18 years – with half being forwards and half backs. Eight had reached elite level.

Researcher Professor Willie Stewart said: “These results provide new evidence regarding the association between rugby union participation and CTE. Specifically, our data show risk is linked to length of rugby career, with every extra year of play increasing risk.

“Based on this it is imperative that the sport’s regulators reduce exposure to repeated head impacts in match play and in training to reduce risk of this otherwise preventable contact sport related neurodegenerative disease.”

Risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in rugby union is associated with length of playing career. Acta Neuropathologica 24 October 2023

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