Rugby’s Big Year(s)

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Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas Nevada, site of the annual Rugby 7s tournament.

It’s amazing how time flies.  How is it already March?

It’s almost 7 p.m. and I’m writing by the light of a sun that is still above the horizon, thanks to one of my favorite inventions of the modern world: daylight savings time, which arrived last night.

This realization is a personal reminder, however, that I have been delinquent: meaning to write a blog post about an event that took place three weeks ago…..but, my oh my, business has just swamped me, I guess.

As the swallows return annually to San Juan Capistrano, so do the Rugby 7 squads of Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand and other countries come each February to the desert:  Las Vegas hosted the USA leg of the HSBC Sevens Series Feb 13 – 15.  It is the largest annual rugby tournament held in North America. and Las Vegas has been its host since 2010.

As followers of the blog will know, USA Rugby conducts an outstanding medical symposium every year just prior to the tournament, and I was out for some education as well as sport.  It was a fabulous conference, and I do hope you all get a chance to attend some day.

Tim Hewett, who is well known to readers of this blog, gave a great talk on original research of the difference in injury rates between collegiate rugby and American football players.  We are most definitely looking forward to seeing that research published.  Hey, Tim, if you’re looking for a place to send that manuscript for peer review, send it our way.

His colleague from Ohio State, the orthopaedic surgeon and OSU Team Doc Chris Kaeding, gave a great talk as well, regarding data on knee outcomes coming out of the ‘Multicenter Othopaedic Outcomes Network,’ or MOON group, some of whose research we have published in CJSM.

With the George North story on everyone’s mind, we were all eager to hear what concussion experts such as Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute had to say about minimizing injury risk in rugby.  Nowinski presented one of the best and most nuanced talks I have heard on the ‘concussion crisis’ in sports. I enjoyed it so much I caught up with him after the conference, and the interview I had with him is now available as a podcast. Read more of this post

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Genetic Testing for Sports Injuries

The recent NFC championship game proved, I think, this truth: a true champion is not dead until the final whistle blows. The Seahawks  won in dramatic fashion over the Packers, my favorite team.  As many commentators noted, Seattle played horribly for 58 minutes, but were stellar for the last two; and that was all that mattered in the end.

As a fan, my initial reaction is to think “we gave it away.”  But that is a disservice to the champions.  The Seahawks never lay down, and they seized the moment when it presented itself.

Still…..as a fan, I wonder–if Aaron Rodgers’ calf were 100%, would we have pulled away more decisively earlier in the game?  The field goals in the red zone: would they have been touchdowns instead if our quarterback had his usual mobility?

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Does Rodgers carry a valuable SNP in the genes of his gastrocnemius? I hope so!

Well, we Packer fans have an offseason to think about ‘what ifs,’ and the Packers medical staff has an offseason to rehab Rodgers’ injury and think about secondary prevention.  Perhaps the Packers will want to think about doing some genetic testing as part of their assessment. Management and the medical staff may want, at least, to take a look at our lead editorial for the January 2015 issue:  “The Dawning Age of Genetic Testing for Sports Injuries.”

We have written about ‘genes’ and sports in the pages of this blog:  a very popular post last year was “The Sports Gene:  how Olympians are made (or born),” a review of David Epstein’s excellent book, The Sports Gene:  Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. As those titles would indicate, the focus on the sports/gene intersection in those pieces was more on sports performance than sports injury.

The ‘intersection’ of sports injury and genes has come up in the pages of the CJSM journal itself:  Genetics:  Does it Play a Role in Tendinopathy? and an investigation into genotypes and the risk for concussion in college athletes  are among the offerings we’ve had on this subject in recent years.

In the January lead editorial, Gabrielle Goodlin and her co-authors from Stanford do an excellent job in a short space of reviewing a great deal of what evidence already exists in this world, as well as pointing out directions where this work may be headed. Read more of this post

The Safety of Artificial Turf vs. Grass as a Sport Playing Surface

I was interviewed last week for a newspaper article which looked at the debate over a local school’s intention to transform a grass playing surface to artifical turf.

Among the controversies in sports medicine, the turf vs. grass wars are not the loudest nor the meanest, but they have been among the most persistent ever since 1966, when the Houston Astros first introduced a synthetic turf playing surface in the Astrodome, and dubbed it Astroturf.

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Reliant Astrodome

The history of the Astrodome makes for interesting reading:  of note, the original intention was for the surface to be natural grass, and the makers of the dome had installed traslucent skylights to allow for grass to grow on the indoor surface.  Alas, not enough light made it to the playing surface, the grass died, and Astroturf was born.

The progress of science and technology have seen Astroturf give way to newer, so-called second-, third-, and even fourth-generation turfs. The  sporting world has even demonstrated that an indoor venue can sustain a natural grass pitch: witness the luminous Forsyth Barr stadium  in Duenedin, NZ, which has hosted matches from the 2011 Rugby World Cup to a recent Aerosmith concert.

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Natural grass surface on Indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, NZ

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Aerosmith, recent performers on the grass of Forsyth Barr Stadium

So, the question from the interviewer to me essentially reduces to,  ‘Grass:  if its good enough for Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, is it good enough for all of us?’ Read more of this post

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