Spinal injuries in rugby union, 1970–2003: lessons and responsibilities

Paul T Haylen
Med J Aust 2004; 181 (1): 48-50.


  • There was an increase in the frequency of rugby union spinal injuries worldwide during the 1970s and early 1980s.

  • The United Kingdom and Australia have since had some success in reducing this increase in spinal injuries.

  • These changes were the result of actions by rugby union authorities in response to recommendations by medical advisors; legal action by injured players has also played a part.

  • The frequency of spinal injuries has not decreased in New Zealand (up to 2000) and South Africa (up to 1997).

  • Rugby union authorities’ responsibilities should include establishing and maintaining national and international spinal injury registers to forge closer working relationships with medical researchers.

    • Such registers would provide up-to-date information for enhancing and developing preventive measures.

    • There has been no specific publicly available record of the incidence of rugby union spinal injuries in Australia since 1996, so it is uncertain whether the safety measures introduced so far have had a lasting impact.

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  • Paul T Haylen

  • Sydney, NSW.



The contribution of Peter Haylen and Dr Margaret Haylen for their assistance in sourcing the research documentation is gratefully acknowledged, as is that of Dr Bernard Haylen for reviewing a draft of this article and providing invaluable advice.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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