Does Padded Headgear Prevent Head Injury in Rugby Union Football?

MCINTOSH, ANDREW S.1; MCCRORY, PAUL2; FINCH, CAROLINE F.3; BEST, JOHN P.4; CHALMERS, DAVID J.5; WOLFE, RORY6

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181864bee
Basic Sciences
Abstract

Background: Concussion is a serious problem in many contact sports, including rugby union football. The study's primary aim was to measure the efficacy of padded headgear in reducing the rates of head injury or concussion.

Methods: A cluster randomized controlled trial with three arms was conducted with rugby union football teams as the unit of randomization. Teams consisted of males participating in under 13-, 15-, 18-, and 20-yr age group competitions. The interventions were "standard" and "modified" padded headgear. Headgear wearing and injury were measured for each study team at each game over two seasons.

Results: Eighty-two teams participated in year 1 and 87 in year 2. A total of 1493 participants (10,040 player hours) were in the control group, 1128 participants (8170 player hours) were assigned to the standard headgear group, and 1474 participants (10,650 player hours) were assigned to the modified headgear group. The compliance rates were low in all groups, but 46% of participants wore standard headgear. An intention-to-treat analysis showed no differences in the rates of head injury or concussion between controls and headgear arms. Incidence rate ratios for standard headgear wearers referenced to controls were 0.95 and 1.02 for game and missed game injuries. Analyses of injury rates based on observed wearing patterns also showed no significant differences. Incidence rate ratios for standard headgear wearers referenced to nonwearers were 1.11 and 1.10 for game and missed game injuries.

Conclusions: Padded headgear does not reduce the rate of head injury or concussion. The low compliance rates are a limitation. Although individuals may choose to wear padded headgear, the routine or mandatory use of protective headgear cannot be recommended.

Author Information

1School of Risk and Safety Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, AUSTRALIA; 2Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, University of Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA; 3The University of Ballarat, Victoria, AUSTRALIA; 4Orthosports Group, Sydney, AUSTRALIA; 5Injury Prevention Research Unit, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, NEW ZEALAND; and 6Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Andrew S. McIntosh, Ph.D., M.Biomed.E., B.A.Sc., School of Risk and Safety Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia; E-mail: a.mcintosh@unsw.edu.au.

Submitted for publication July 2007.

Accepted for publication June 2008.

©2009The American College of Sports Medicine