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Theo Farley, Physiotherapist Clinical Teaching fellow at the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH), conducted and led research that investigated whether neck strength is significantly associated with concussion incidence in professional male rugby players, with the study being published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).  

This study involved screening 225 rugby players for neck strength at three equally spaced time points throughout the 2018/19 season. By monitoring a players’ playing time, this enabled Theo and other research clinicians to establish whether a correlation between neck strength and concussion existed.  

The findings revealed that poor neck extension strength is positively correlated with concussion incidence when accounting for exposure. Further analysis reveals that a 10% increase for neck extension strength is associated with a 13% decrease in concussion rate.  

For the first time in published literature, this discovery provides what could be described as a minimally acceptable neck extension strength of 41kg. Neck extension strength below this value will identify 71% of players that will suffer a concussion in a male professional rugby season.   

There was a significant association between extension strength and concussion; with a 10% increase for extension strength associated with a 13% reduction in concussion rate. The study concludes that neck extension strength is a key risk factor for concussion in professional male rugby players.

Theo said: “There is currently a very limited evidence base around risk factors to concussion and even less looking at rugby playing populations. The results of this study have established a modifiable intrinsic risk factor to concussion in male professional rugby players and provide what we have described as a minimally acceptable neck extension strength. We hope that our results will guide and inform strength and conditioning interventions in this playing group.” 

Read the full article, in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), here.