Mild traumatic brain injuries in early adolescent rugby players: Long-term neurocognitive and academic outcomes

Brain Inj. 2015;29(9):1113-25. doi: 10.3109/02699052.2015.1031699. Epub 2015 May 25.


Background: Information is scant concerning enduring brain injury effects of participation in the contact sport of Rugby Union (hereafter rugby) on early adolescents.

Objective: The objective was prospectively to investigate differences between young adolescent male rugby players and non-contact sports controls on neurocognitive test performance over 3 years and academic achievement over 6 years.

Method: A sample of boys from the same school and grade was divided into three groups: rugby with seasonal concussions (n = 45), rugby no seasonal concussions (n = 21) and non-contact sports controls (n = 30). Baseline neurocognitive testing was conducted pre-season in Grade 7 and post-season in Grades 8 and 9. Year-end academic grades were documented for Grades 6-9 and 12 (pre-high school to year of school leaving). A mixed model repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to investigate comparative neurocognitive and academic outcomes between the three sub-groups.

Results: Compared with controls, both rugby groups were significantly lower on the WISC-III Coding Immediate Recall sub-test. There was a significant interaction effect on the academic measure, with improved scores over time for controls, that was not in evidence for either rugby group.

Conclusions: Tentatively, the outcome suggests cognitive vulnerability in association with school level participation in rugby.

Keywords: Academic performance; MTBI; adolescence; concussion; mild traumatic brain injury; neurocognitive; rugby.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Brain Concussion / rehabilitation
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Cognition
  • Educational Status
  • Football / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • South Africa
  • Treatment Outcome