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Saskatchewan Researcher Part of Global Team on Concussion Research

New Research Will Help Make Sport Safer in Canada

In the land of football and hockey, Saskatchewan is hardly a hotbed for rugby.

However, the U of R is about to become a leader in a global study of concussions among former rugby players, thanks in part to the research of Dr. Patrick Neary, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

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Dr. Patrick Neary (top right) conducts an examination on Eric Exner (seated) at the Concussion Testing Centre at the University of Regina. Jyotpal Singh(left) and Ryan Dech (right) are master’s candidates in kinesiology. (Photo courtesy U of R Photography)

Neary is teaming up with Dr. Steve Martin, professor of Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education, and Varsity Doctor at the University of Victoria.

Martin and Neary are the only Canadian representatives in the Global Rugby Health Research Programme. The global team includes researchers in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It’s believed this far-reaching examination of concussions among rugby players is the first research project of its kind.

Neary and Martin will examine general health and neurocognitive testing of Canadian retired rugby players and retired non-contact athletes.

"The Global Rugby Health Research Programme is a unique opportunity for Canadian rugby and rugby worldwide to assess the effects of concussions in aging athletes,” says Neary. “From this research, we are hopeful that we will contribute to new knowledge that will help to make the sport of rugby in Canada safer for future generations of rugby players."

Rugby Study Adds to Assessments of Football and Hockey Players

Neary runs the Concussion Testing Centre at the University. For a number of years, his team has been assessing university athletes from numerous sports, and prior to that, Western Hockey League teams have been involved. Last fall concussion testing expanded to include members of the Campbell Collegiate football team.

"Our concussion testing laboratory has been assessing players with concussions for over 10 years using a technology called infrared spectroscopy,” says Neary. “But this will be the first study to my knowledge to assess mental and neurological function in retired athletes with a history of concussion using this type of medical equipment. Such research could lead to novel rehabilitation methods.

Neary also states that the centre’s research will now be extended to include retired ice hockey and football players.

"Then we are able to compare groups of athletes that have sustained concussions in their playing years,” he says.

This phase of the rugby research is an expansion of the inaugural New Zealand Rugby Health Project, led by Professor Patria Hume at the Auckland University of Technology in Australia, World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby. The study explored the long-term health impacts of playing rugby, producing valuable insights for the rugby community.

Elite Rugby Players at High Risk of Concussion

The New Zealand study found that participants from two rugby groups sustained substantially more concussions than the non-contact sport group; 85% of elite rugby players and 77% of community rugby players reported having had at least one concussion, versus 23% of non-contact players.

Now the global research team will build on these findings, further assessing the impact of rugby history on general health and cognitive functioning.
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Elite rugby players may be at elevated risk of concussions. 85 per cent of elite players in a New Zealand study reported at least one concussion from playing the sport. There is little concussion-related research on Canadian rugby players. (Photo courtesy University of Regina men’s rugby team)

Directing the global research effort are Professor Patria Hume of Auckland (who led the New Zealand study), Dr. Doug King of Auckland and Dr. Karen Hind of Leeds Beckett University in the UK.

“We are delighted to announce this important research has been extended to Canada and are really excited to tap into the expertise of professor Neary and Dr. Martin,” says Hind.

There is little data in Canada on concussion-related research on rugby players. “In addition to examining athletes in the Regina area, I am also fortunate to be working with colleagues at the University of Victoria and in particular Dr. Steve Martin,” says Neary. “We will be assessing retired rugby players in the Victoria area as well, which is a haven for rugby in Canada.”

If you have played competitive rugby, you are encouraged to be a part of this study. Please contact Dr. Patrick Neary at

(This article was originally published by the University of Regina, and has been republished with permission.)

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