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Tuesday Nov 7, 2023

Mouthguard data gives compelling evidence on player safety

A big talking point in rugby recently has been centred around the importance of increased player safety through reducing head injuries.

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The increased protection given to players has come about through new laws introduced by World Rugby and international governing bodies like the RFU and New Zealand Rugby.

Changes have included the likes of tackle heights being altered in the grassroots game, concussion protocols being tightened, and even the introduction of smart mouth guards to measure the impacts that players are taking in matches.

In a statement detailing their findings, World Rugby have said:

The Otago Community Head Impact Detection study (ORCHID) a joint project between World Rugby, Prevent Biometrics, New Zealand Rugby, Otago Rugby and the University of Otago, has published the first independent, peer-reviewed findings into community rugby following almost two years of trail-blazing research. 

“The study measures over 17,000 separate head acceleration events across more than 300 players from senior rugby through to U13s level.

“This work was followed by the Elite Extension of the ORCHID study in partnership with the Ulster University and Premiership Rugby.  Further updates into the women’s community game are currently being prepared for peer review and publication.

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Both studies used smart mouthguard technology, supplied by Prevent Biometrics, to understand the forces on the head experienced by players both in matches and training situations. 

“The mouthguards measure g-forces which are experienced for less time than it takes to blink, using technology independently verified both in research laboratories and on the field of play.”

The ORCHID paper shows that in the men’s community game:

  • 86 per cent of forces measured are the same as or less than those experienced in other forms of exercise such as running, jumping or skipping
  • 94 per cent of forces are lower than those previously measured on people riding a rollercoaster
  • The large majority of events resulting in the highest measured forces are as a result of poor technique in the tackle and at the breakdown
  • The Elite Extension study also showed that:
    Most contact events in elite rugby do not result in any significant force to the head.
  • Where low, medium and high force events do occur they are most common in tackles and carries, followed by rucks
  • Both men’s and women’s forwards were more likely to experience force events than backs

Dr Melanie Bussey, Associate Professor in Biomechanics at the University of Otago said:

Our ultimate goal as researchers is to make a meaningful impact through our work. Therefore, we are extremely pleased to see our work integrated into new strategies and guidelines designed to enhance player safety.

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“We appreciate World Rugby’s approach, which granted us the time to ensure robustness in our analysis and the autonomy to let the data speak for itself.”

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Eanna Falvey said:

“It is encouraging to see that alongside our recent research into the health benefits of rugby, we now have the data that offers a more complete picture of what it is like to play our sport.

“These studies gives us the ability like never before to understand the causes of head impacts and accelerations and we will leave no stone unturned, making whatever changes may be needed to reduce large forces to the head in our game.”

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