Collisions in the scrum do not appear to cause long-term damage to the cervical spine of rugby players, an Irish study has found.
Compared to the general population X-rays of 14 rugby players showed they had significant cervical spine degenerative changes. However, they did not have increased symptoms such as neck pain or weakness in the arms.
Consultant radiologist at the Santry Sports Clinic, Dr Brian Hogan, said they were expecting the changes to the X-rays but were also expecting the participants to complain of pain.
“Catastrophic injuries, while regrettable, are few and far between. This study highlights that players were not shown to be at an increased risk of neck and arm symptoms in the long-term,” he said.
The players reviewed were all inter-provincial or international players. Between them they had an average of 23 years of playing competitive rugby. One player was aged 58.
Dr Hogan pointed out scrum rules had changed over time. He said they were under-refereed in the past but now players under-15 were not allowed push, and spectators watching on TV could see how well they were policed by the referee. He added this could minimise injuries.
Other studies on this topic have been carried out in South Africa and New Zealand but this was the first to factor in symptoms as well. Dr Hogan said further study was needed to look at the long-term effects on the cervical spine.