The cervical spine of professional front-row rugby players: correlation between degenerative changes and symptoms

Ir J Med Sci. 2010 Jun;179(2):259-63. doi: 10.1007/s11845-009-0432-3. Epub 2009 Oct 8.


Background: Injuries to the cervical spine (C-spine) are among the most serious in rugby and are well documented. Front-row players are particularly at risk due to repetitive high-intensity collisions in the scrum.

Aim: This study evaluates degenerative changes of the C-spine and associated symptomatology in front-row rugby players.

Materials and methods: C-spine radiographs from 14 professional rugby players and controls were compared. Players averaged 23 years of playing competitive rugby. Two consultant radiologists performed a blind review of radiographs evaluating degeneration of disc spaces and apophyseal joints. Clinical status was assessed using a modified AAOS/NASS/COSS cervical spine outcomes questionnaire.

Results: Front-row rugby players exhibited significant radiographic evidence of C-spine degenerative changes compared to the non-rugby playing controls (P < 0.005). Despite these findings the rugby players did not exhibit increased symptoms.

Conclusion: This highlights the radiologic degenerative changes of the C-spine of front-row rugby players. However, these changes do not manifest themselves clinically or affect activities of daily living.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Athletic Injuries / etiology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Football / injuries*
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors