Rugby research kicks tests into touch

Rugby players who suffer injuries similar to car crash victims now have a better chance of recovery thanks to Derby University

Professor Nick Draper, Head of Life Sciences at the University of Derby, and PhD student Angus Lindsay, have designed a way of testing the impact of what is a physically tough game on the players themselves.

The project – a collaboration between the University of Derby and University of Canterbury in New Zealand – has been investigating the impact on Canterbury rugby players for two years, working with researchers at the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Canterbury Health laboratories.

Steve Gieseg, Associate Professor of Biological Studies at the University of Canterbury, who led the New Zealand branch of research, said: “Our team found levels of damage occurring in Canterbury rugby players after games which were in the ranges expected from serious trauma.

 “The level of damage was greater than could be predicted from GPS (global positioning system). The measurements also show that some players could heal from this damage remarkably quickly.”

The researchers developed a set of non-invasive and stress-free biochemical tests to measure the level of damage occurring in rugby players using only urine and saliva, enabling them to investigate 44 samples per game (before and after the game for each player),without the need to draw large amounts of blood for tests.

The international research team optimised and refined proven measurements of stress-load while treating the players’ data as if they were car accident victims.

Professor Draper said: “Our research measured several bio-chemicals in the urine and saliva to gain a global view of how players responded to the physical stress of an individual game.

“For instance, when a player damages a muscle, a bio-chemical marker of this damage can be traced in the urine using high-performance liquid chromatography. We can then interpret this to examine the extent of such damage for an individual player.

“During the research, the measurements tested the level of muscle damage, inflammation, immune resistance and mental stress. The measurements can be used to assist coaches and medical staff to manage players’ recovery and training during different phases of competition.”

The findings form a substantial part of the research by Angus Lindsay and Professor Draper, which has been sponsored by St George’s Hospital in Christchurch and part-funded by a private donation.