Intended for healthcare professionals


The unknown risks of youth rugby

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 08 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h26
  1. Michael Carter, consultant paediatric neurosurgeon
  1. 1Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Bristol BS2 8BJ, UK
  1. michael.carter2{at}

And the urgent need to quantify them

Anyone who has spent an hour picking skull fragments out of the contused frontal lobes of a teenage rugby player is entitled to an opinion on the safety of youth rugby. As a paediatric neurosurgeon, I’ve done this on several occasions. As a “rugby parent,” I’ve observed the school and club game at close quarters, from both sides of the touchline. What I’ve seen and heard suggests that our thinking on the subject may not be altogether rational.

Rugby union is a full contact collision sport in which extreme force may legitimately be exerted to acquire and maintain possession of the ball. Play exposes participants to the risk of severe physical injury. Five minutes on YouTube will show how true this is for the professional game. But rugby is also played by children, who share many of the same risks as adult players but are arguably more vulnerable physically.

In UK schools where rugby is played, it mostly begins as a near compulsory activity from the age of 8 years. By 10 years, most players engage in some form of contact competition, increasing the potential for injury. Many players are …

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