More research needed before linking rugby to CTE – expert

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June 21, 2021

Head knocks and concussions in sport have been linked to several brain conditions and illnesses, but the long term impacts are still very much a grey area.

Auckland University neurology researcher Helen Murray believes a greater understanding of repetitive brain injuries is needed before a proper link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy CTE and rugby is clear.

CTE causes microscopic lesions resulting from trauma that grow over time and eventually causes dementia.

Currently, the only way to test for the condition is post-mortem with brains donated by former sportsmen and women.

It means there’s no way of proving that an individual has CTE or to differentiate the effects from other brain conditions.

“We need to understand this disease more so that we can diagnose in living people as well as after,” she told Breakfast.

“I think it is definitely a silent situation – I think not many people know what their symptoms could be related to head injury.”

In order to identify the condition early, more has to be done to fully flesh out what CTE is and can do to the brains of those playing contact sports.

Boston Brain Bank neuroscientist Chris Nowinski told Sunday the aggressive nature of repeated head knocks could have catastrophic effects.

“You’re gonna have problems with cognition, you might have problems with your mood and behaviour, you might have problems with anxiety, impulse control,” he said.

“We’re sort of figuring it out, but it doesn’t look good.”

American football has spent years denying that head knocks were linked to CTE , but that’s until Nowinski’s evidence forced them to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation.

Now a group of former players are suing World Rugby under similar circumstances, alleging the English and Welsh rugby unions failed to protect them from the risks of concussion.

But as to whether there’s that same link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy and rugby is yet to be fully investigated.

New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson says it’s too early to say.

“There are a number of potential casual impacts in this area; lifestyle choices, you know, genetics, genetic makeup, can be a couple that have been identified,” he told Sunday.

Helen Murray says neither argument raised is necessarily wrong, but rather more needs to be looked into in order to fully investigate the condition.

“I think they’re both right. I think there is a lot of evidence which suggests that repetitive brain injuries contribute to CTE and we need to do more research.”

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