The prevention of spinal injuries in rugby football

Paraplegia. 1994 Jul;32(7):442-53. doi: 10.1038/sc.1994.71.


The incidence of injuries to the spinal cord sustained at rugby in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia is reviewed. Ninety-seven injuries seen at Stoke Mandeville Hospital at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) between 1956 and 1993 are analysed in detail. There were 93 accidents at rugby union, two at American football and two at rugby league. The injuries were of the cervical spine apart from four hysterics and one thoracic injury. The thoracic injury occurred after the game when the player fell downstairs. The injuries were analysed according to the mechanism of injury, the neurological condition, the causation, the standard of the player and the position in the field. The injuries caused were the result of force being applied to the skull which was transmitted to the cervical spine resulting in injury to the cervical cord. As a result of this research, representations were made to the appropriate authorities and changes in the laws were made. As a result of these law changes there has been a dramatic reduction in the overall number of injuries and the elimination of the injury from the loose scrum. This paper discusses the historical sequence of how these preventative measures came about to reduce the incidence of injuries and the legal implications whereby the authors took part in two law suits. The legal consequences are analysed in detail.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aircraft
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Football / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Medical
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Physical Fitness
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Transportation of Patients