Rugby takes a huge toll on the spine

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French researchers compared 101 men, aged 35 to 47, who were retired professional rugby players with a control group of 85 people of similar ages who never played a professional sport.

"A few years after the end of their careers, professional rugby players seem to have more degenerative symptoms and lesions on the cervical spine. These symptoms are exceptionally disabling [3 of 101 cases in this study," said study author Dr. David Brauge.

The former rugby players reported chronic neck pain and reduced neck mobility far more often than those in the control group - more than 50 percent versus nearly 32 percent. However, both groups had similar levels of pain in an evaluation of neck pain.

MRI scans showed that the former rugby players had much narrower vertebral canals, which house the spinal cord. They also had greater foraminal stenosis - narrowing of cervical disc space - compared to those in the control group.

The retired rugby players also had much more muscle and much less fat in the vicinity of the spine, which may help control their levels of spinal pain, the researchers said.

Many more of the former rugby players had undergone surgeries for degenerative spine conditions - nearly 10 percent vs. none in the control group, according to the study published online July 21 in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

"Our definitive conclusion should be reasonably prudent; we still can't assert that the lesions worsen with time or that the disease stabilizes with the end of the rugby activity," Brauge said in a journal news release.

Read more:

Rugby players' head injuries linked to brain decline

5 tips for reducing sport-related injuries

School rugby player sustains serious head injury

Image: Rugby player blue kit black background close up holding ball from Shutterstock

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