Concussion: Head injuries fall in Premiership audit but length of absence rises

England winger Jonny May is assessed
Concussion and head injuries are subject to protocols which seek to prevent further damage

The number of concussions suffered by players in Premiership rugby matches fell last season, although the average length of absence was higher than before, an annual study has revealed.

Concussion remained the most commonly reported injury in 2017-18 - with 140 in matches, down from 169 in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, injuries in contact training on England duty rose to 6.1 per 1,000 hours, double the study average.

Those injuries kept players out five times than the mean in the study.

However, the report highlighted the "relatively small" number of training sessions and injuries in the study, meaning the figures should be "interpreted with caution".

Concussion remained the most commonly reported injury in 2017-18 - with 140 in matches, down from 169 in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union's annual study showed average recovery times for concussion rose to 19 days.

Head injury protocols carry a mandatory six days' absence for concussions.

Compliance was shown to be well observed, with no player returning within the six-day period.

Although the overall number of match concussions was down, the number of occurrences on training grounds rose to 32 from 21 in 2016-17, comprising 38% of the total incidences.

"We'd like to see injury severity and burden reduced," medical services director Simon Kemp said.

"That's why the action plan is based on the law of design. We've seen that trend in Rugby World Cups so we need to work with World Rugby about the future vision of the game while minimising injury risk. Outside of concussion we haven't seen increase injury but there are some in long term overall injuries. We're not surprised about the increase."

Impact of England duty

The number of days' absence from injuries suffered while on international duty with England, both in matches and training, increased across the board, although in competitive action the total went down.

There were unfortunate instances such as Wasps flanker Sam Jones being forced to retire in March 2018 from injury he suffered while on an England camp.

"We need to look at transition of players from club to country," Kemp continued. "There's greater intensity in international training and strength and conditioning coaches are working between club and country.

"They need to be effectively transitioned for the intense training."

Collision injuries affecting the tackler

The report also highlighted the number of injuries affecting the tackler as opposed to the ball carrier.

  • 52% of all match injuries are associated with the tackle, with 28% of all injuries associated with tackling and 24% associated with being tackled - 2017-18 was the first season that the incidence of all injuries was greater for the tackler than the ball carrier.
  • Concussion accounted for 18% of all injuries to the ball carrier and 37% of all injuries to the tackler, highlighting the tackle as the key game event to consider when developing concussion and all injury reduction strategies.
  • The average severity of match injuries in 2017-18 was 37 days.

World Rugby has sought to limit the further spread of concussion injuries by trialling lower tackle height regulations, while the RFU is working with World Rugby on the idea of a post-game high-tackle warning for challenges that go unpunished during the match.

"We've been trialling the reduced tackle height into the Championship Cup," Kemp added. "We are halfway through the trial so can't report on its effect on concussion yet.

"In real terms, we need world evidence and testing out a theory that we think will reduce risk of concussion. We need further trials before fundamentally changing the law."

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