In South Africa, the national rugby safety programme called BokSmart, focuses on injury prevention, injury management and player performance. BokSmart is especially concerned with serious and catastrophic head, neck and spine injuries. Even though these rugby-related injuries are rare, their often permanent disabling nature can result in a traumatic and life-altering event for the player and his/her family, and remains a serious concern for the rugby community at large.  Not much is known about the real impact, long-term consequences and the immense challenges facing players who have an acute spinal cord injury (ASCI). To compound matters, South Africa faces unique socio-economic and racial differences. Factors like education, sports facilities, the level of coaching and access to good health care, all pose added challenges for players from disadvantaged backgrounds.  For this reason the Players’ Fund and BokSmart have decided to embark on a research project/study which looks at the above factors in depth using their recipients (injured players) as the sample group.

This study aims to look at what is in place to support these injured players and their families. It is hoped that the findings of this study will enable organisations like the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and the Players’ Fund, amongst others, to be able to provide appropriate support and care and at the right time, both immediately after the injury and on the long term.

The information gathering for this study is done by one-on-one interviews.  The discussion covers the personal, social and economic turmoil that spinal cord damage plays in their lives. An in depth assessment focusing on quality of life is also done by way of a standardised questionnaire. To date the Players’ Fund has found the study enormously beneficial, as visits are done one on one in the recipients own home environment. It is felt that this will contribute to a more accurate gathering of information from a large group all having a shared background – this being a rugby injury.

The research team wish to thank all those who have thus far so willingly shared their story and provided such valuable information. Much travel is planned for the rest of the year as the team plan visits to complete their study in all corners of South Africa.

Life after the Game

A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the long-term effects of Acute Spinal Cord Injuries in South African Rugby union players

Marelise Badenhorst, MSc

Vrije University Medical Centre (VUMC) – University of Cape Town (UCT)
NRF Desmond Tutu Doctoral Programme

Project supervisors

Prof. Willem van Mechelen, MD, PhD (VUMC)

Dr. Evert Verhagen, PhD (VUMC)

Prof. Mike Lambert, PhD (UCT)

Dr. James Brown, PhD (UCT, VUMC)