Report exposes alarming long-term impact of rugby, league on the body

There's probably a few of you still battling through the aches and pains of a rugby game you played a few decades ago.

A report into the health of retired players in rugby, rugby league and cricket has found more suffer ongoing issues from broken bones and ligament tears than those who suffer concussions. 

The research found almost all had suffered a concussion at some point. It surveyed retired players aged between 21 and 82 years of age, finding 80 per cent had suffered a concussion and around half had sustained a knee ligament injury.

Half of those players suffered ongoing problems such as osteoarthritis. 

"If you've got a family member with osteoarthritis, you'll see how painful and difficult it is to move and do functional activities," said researcher Patria Hume, Professor of Human Performance at the Auckland University of Technology.

"It makes you think, 'Mmm, maybe we need to pay more attention to that'."  

Hume said injuries are often ignored, which only makes things worse. 

"At the elite level in rugby players get immediate treatment but sometimes, at domestic level, it takes time to get access."

At the elite level, officials are changing the game to ensure there's less injuries. During last year's Rugby World Cup, the number of players pulling out due to injury was the lowest ever.

This has been put down to new sanctions on high-risk tackles and raising awareness before the tournament - and that's what's underway at grassroots rugby level too. 

"New Zealand Rugby have RugbySmart - that is an education programme that is world-leading," said Prof Hume.

What they're still working out is what's behind New Zealand's lower injury rate compared to the UK. 

Arguably it could be the cleaner style of the game - or perhaps just the toughness of the Kiwis playing it.