Rugby research which could reduce injury and ultimately change the game

Scientists at the University of Bath are carrying out pioneering tests on rugby players that could potentially reduce injury by changing the way they side-step.

From this week (1 February - 5 February) a series of volunteers will be put through their paces in laboratories at the University's Claverton Campus to study the side-step technique and the forces it exerts on players' joints and ligaments.

The idea is to introduce the volunteers to a new way of side-stepping, similar to that used by tennis players when moving, using motion capture technology to study the impact on the joints to see if the forces decrease and reduce injury risk.

The volunteers will wear LED markers to track their body motion while they run across a laboratory and react to a light signal to change direction to avoid the "defender".

LED sensors track the movement of the volunteer as he side-steps

LED sensors track the movement of the volunteer as he side-steps

The computer will then create a model of the volunteer and combine this with the forces measured at the ground to calculate the forces having to be absorbed at the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Dr Grant Trewartha, lecturer in Biomechanics in the School for Health, is running the project in conjunction with colleagues, Dr Cassie Wilson and Dr Polly McGuigan, at Bath as well as Dr Bridget Munro, Senior Lecturer in Biomechanics in the School of Health Sciences, University of Wollongong in Australia.

Previous research has already identified that the side-step movement, that players do when trying to avoid an opposing player, is a common way of injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. This can cause serious problems for players in terms of long-term recovery and in some cases can put them out of action completely.

Bath Rugby Club's Butch James, who helped South Africa win the Rugby World Cup in 2007, is currently recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and the injury is suffered by participants at all levels in many different sports through similar movements.

Dr Trewartha said: "It is a serious injury which can still end careers despite surgery.

"If we can modify side-step technique to help reduce these injuries then it would be beneficial to the individuals, the teams they play for and, of course, the NHS".

Additional screening tests will aim to determine if preferred side-step techniques are associated with the physical characteristics of players such as their size, muscle strength and flexibility.

Dr Trewartha said: "This project will look at whether we have to think about changing the way that players play. Then we have to look at groups of players playing in the traditional way against a group playing the new way. If this proves to reduce injury then maybe there's an argument for changing the way the game is played."

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