How Common Are Concussions In Rugby?

Rugby players are routinely smashing into each other with such incredible force that it is a minor miracle that there aren’t concussions every time a tackle occurs. Unfortunately, concussions do still regularly occur even though players and teams are doing everything they can to limit their occurrence.

How common are concussions in rugby?

Concussions are common in rugby with a rate of 18 concussions per 1000 hours of exposure which is one of the highest of any sports. American football, notorious for concussions, has a lower rate of concussions at 15 per 1000 hours of play, while soccer has a rate of 6 per 1000 hours.  

Rugby is one of most dangerous sports when it comes to concussions. This makes sense as players are flying into each other at full speed with players’ heads coming into contact with other players’ heads, elbows, knees and hips. The result is often nasty concussions.

The latest research does not look good for rugby in terms of the prevalence of concussions. Rugby has routinely ranked as one of the sports with highest concussion incidence. This rate has ranged from 15-28 concussions per 1000 hours of game time, with the average being around 18.

Shockingly, you are more likely to suffer a concussion playing rugby than you are American football which has a lower rate of incidence at 15 per 1000 hours of play.

If you enjoy your brain cells and want to look after your head you may be better off playing soccer which has a concussion rate of 6 per 1000 hours or even ice hockey which has a surprisingly low concussion rate of just 1.47 per 1000 hours. 

Rugby’s concussion statistics are very bad. It will only be a matter of time before there are large scale lawsuits filed against the rugby boards as former players start developing some serious concussion related conditions such as dementia and CTE caused in part by a lack of concussion testing and protocol. You only need to look at the NFL’s situation to see rugby’s future.

How Do Concussions Occur In Rugby?

Concussions typically occur in rugby during tackles. The tackler is most susceptible to suffering a concussion from hitting his head on the attacker’s hip, thigh, knee or elbow. Ball runners can also suffer concussions from high tackles which make contact with their head or whiplash.

Concussions occur when there are high impact collisions on the rugby pitch. These nearly always occur during tackles. Occasionally players will run into each and suffer nasty head clashes but the most common way concussion occurs is when a tackler gets his head in the wrong position and ends up copping a knee, elbow, thigh or hip to the head. 

Ball players are not immune from concussions. Ball players will often suffer concussions when they are tackled high. A flying arm or shoulder landing right into an attacking player’s jaw is a common cause of concussions in rugby. Tackles which make contact above the shoulders are illegal due to their ability to cause concussions but they still regularly throughout matches.

The force with which rugby players generate when they are sprinting down the field is frightening and if your head takes the full brunt of that force you will be left with a bad concussion.

How Do You Avoid Concussions In Rugby?

To avoid concussions in rugby you need to use correct tackling technique, ensuring your head is clear of the ball runner’s knees, thighs and hips. Perform neck strengthening exercises to prevent whiplash. Do not use your head as a battering ram when running with the ball.

As tackling is a major cause of concussions in rugby there are a few tips to use when putting hits on to ensure you protect your head. 

The most important thing is to make sure you get your head away from your opposition’s body. Make contact with your shoulder first then glue your head to the side of the ball runners’ body and use your legs to drive the attacker to the ground on the opposite to where your head is located. You do not want to cop a rampaging ball runner’s knee to your head or have your neck squished under the weight of a 100kg falling rugby player.

When running with the ball again just like tackling you want to make sure your head is out of the way when making contact. You should make contact with your shoulder first. To avoid being hit in the head, tilt your body slightly so you are leading with your shoulder and run outside or inside the attacker, avoiding running directly into them. This will increase your tackle bust percentage and protect your head. 

When you are involved in a big collision on the rugby field your head can be thrown violently backwards. This is known as whiplash and can result in a concussion. The stronger your neck is the less it will move during contact. You can strengthen your neck by performing exercises such as bridge, rolling bridge, 4 way neck exercises and using a weighted neck harness. 

How Do They Test For Concussions In Rugby?

Rugby has developed a head injury assessment (HIA) protocol to test for concussions. If a player is showing any signs of concussion (poor balance, grogginess, nausea, poor memory) they are immediately removed from the field and banned from playing the remainder of the match.

If there is a potential for a concussion to have occurred the player will be taken from the field and examined by a doctor. A player’s balance and cognitive function will be checked. If they pass the tests which typically last for 10mins they can return to the field.

Following the conclusion of the game any player who has undergone an HIA protocol will be further evaluated for three hours. The player’s memory and balance will be compared to previous results.

2 days following the HIA the player will be assessed again to determine if there are any irregularities. 

What Happens If You Play Rugby With A Concussion?

After you have suffered a concussion you are much more susceptible to suffering another and more serious one. Consecutive concussions within a short span of time can lead to prolonged and permanent head injuries. You may suffer from constant headaches and have diminished cognitive function. 

Concussions and head injuries are very serious. You only have one brain and its health is vital to your quality of life. Suffering from head injuries is a serious disability that can completely destroy your life as it can impact your ability to find work and have a normal relationship with your friends and family.

If you play rugby with a concussion you are putting your life at risk. Once you have suffered a concussion and your brain is not healed even a small minor blow can trigger another concussion which is often more serious than the first. The more concussions you suffer the more likely you are to suffer permanent head injuries.

Do you really want to forget your family’s name or struggle with simple arithmetic. Or be burdened with constant headaches or if things get really bad a total inability to remember who you are and where you are. These effects can be permanent and totally ruin your life.

Concussions are not something to play around with. If you have suffered a concussion make sure you are thoroughly examined by a doctor and symptom free before you return to the rugby pitch. You may think you are invincible at 22 but at 52 you definitely won’t think so.

How Long After A Concussion Can You Play Rugby?

If you have suffered a concussion you should not play rugby for at least 3 weeks. If you are still suffering symptoms after 3 weeks you should wait until they resolve before stepping back on the rugby pitch.


Unfortunately, concussions are a regular occurrence in rugby with the current literature rating rugby as having one of the highest incidence rates of any sport, 18 per 1000 hours of play. Shockingly, this is higher than American football at 15 per 1000 hours of play.

Concussions in rugby usually always occur during tackles when players collide at high speeds and cop stray elbows, knees, and hips directly into their heads. Rugby officials and teams are doing their best to reduce the concussion rate by implementing strict protocol however, they are facing an uphill battle due to the nature of the sport.

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