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Rugby players past and present urged to help research on head impacts and concussion

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As concussion in rugby comes under the spotlight, a Swansea researcher is inviting rugby players past and present to help with her research into head impacts, by sharing their experiences anonymously through a survey.

The aim is to help ensure players at all levels benefit from the best possible approach to preventing and managing injuries.

Freja Petrie is a PhD researcher in the department of sport and exercise sciences at Swansea University. She is investigating how men and women’s rugby players experience head impacts and strategies that may reduce their severity.

Research has found that women experience head impacts differently to men, and have weaker neck strength, due to both biological sex and societal gender differences. Women are also more likely to take longer to recover post-concussion than men.

Understanding the experiences of rugby players is central to Freja’s research. She hopes the survey will yield valuable insights and data about players’ experiences and the resources available to them, such as pitch-side healthcare.

The aim is that the data can be used as evidence to show how injury prevention and management protocols should be designed, to make sure they are suitable for all levels of the sport.

Freja will analyse the questionnaire data to identify the key topics and themes to develop key insights.

The survey is open now. Anyone currently playing rugby, or retired from rugby in the UK – at any level – can complete it.

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Freja Petrie described the survey and how the findings would be used: “It’s all aimed at improving our understanding of the training and healthcare resources available to rugby players and how this may affect their ability to enjoy the game safely. To ensure our research is applicable to real-life scenarios we need to combine biomechanical investigations with player experiences.

“The information from the survey will be used as important evidence about the best approach to preventing and managing head impacts, to protect players at all levels.

“The survey is anonymous and will take 5 minutes to complete and you can do it in your own time. You can also contact us if you have any questions – our details are on the survey.

“We’ve also included an option for people to say if they would be willing to provide more information in an interview, in person or online. But this is completely optional. If you did volunteer for an interview, that too would be anonymous”

As well as the survey, Freja’s research project also involves using impact-sensing mouthguards and video analysis to understand how women’s rugby players experience their head impacts during matches.

She is also conducting neck strength training and testing in players as a potential method for reducing the number of head impacts experienced by players. She is using a novel neck strength testing device, invented by Dr Elisabeth Williams, a senior lecturer at Swansea. This can record high-quality multi-directional neck strength and imbalance data, which helps with the research but can also be used to offer individualised feedback to players.

Lead image: As well as the survey, Freja Petrie (pictured) is also using impact-sensing mouthguards (in box, pictured) and video analysis to understand how women’s rugby players experience their head impacts during matches. (Image: Swansea University)

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