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International Rugby Health and Wellbeing Project: Epidemiology of Long-term Musculoskeletal and Quality of Life Outcomes #NDORMS 2020/8

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Supervisors: Prof. Nigel Arden (,
Dr. Nirmala Panagodage Perera (,
Dr. Maja Radojčić (

Over 8-million people across the world play rugby union (rugby)that is considered a form of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. As known, regular physical activity is an essential determinant of general health, life expectancy and overall wellbeing. Consequently, rugby participation may confer enriched psychosocial health in addition to improvements attributable to participation in physical activity. However, As a collision sport, the risk of injury and concussion was high for rugby relative to other collision sports; consequently, the focus of the majority of the available evidence and current media coverage focuses on concussion and injuries.

However, playing rugby may also have a positive impact on health and wellbeing across the lifespan. The link between particular sport (football, tennis, cricket and golf) participation and positive health outcomes have been previously elucidated. Such research on rugby, health and wellbeing, particularly in recreational level players, is lacking. Therefore, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive overview of both positive and negative health and wellbeing impacts of rugby participation. It will inform the stakeholders (including rugby participants, health professionals and sporting bodies) to make evidence-informed decisions, identify critical future research priorities, and develop policy and strategies to promote and enhance the positive aspects of playing rugby.

The Rugby Health and Wellbeing Study aims to evaluate the relationship between playing rugby and musculoskeletal health and quality of life of current and former, elite and recreational rugby players. This international multidisciplinary collaboration project will include a diverse array of male and female players of different age, playing standards, cultural backgrounds nationally and internationally to gain a comprehensive overview, and enable cross-cultural comparisons. Also, for result generalisation, participants will be age and sex-matched to a general population sample.

The specific focus areas that will be addressed are:
1. Injury in current and former recreational and elite rugby players across playing standards
2. Pain and osteoarthritis in current and former rugby players across playing standards
3. Physical activity in current and former rugby players across playing standards
4. General health in current and former rugby players across playing standards
5. Quality of life, flourishing and resilience in current and former rugby players across playing standards

The ideal candidate for this research project should be enthusiastic about sport and especially rugby, interested in epidemiology, public health and communication within these areas. The NDORMS provides world-class facilities for scientists in the musculoskeletal research, multidisciplinary approach, collaborative environment and expertise in epidemiology and biostatistics.

Keywords: Rugby, Joint Outcomes, Injury Prevalence, Injury Prevention, Health Outcomes, Pain


The Botnar Research Centre plays host to the University of Oxford's Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences, which enables and encourages research and education into the causes of musculoskeletal disease and their treatment. Training will be provided in techniques in epidemiology and biostatistics and knowledge translation.

A core curriculum of lectures will be taken in the first term to provide a solid foundation in a broad range of subjects including musculoskeletal biology, inflammation, epigenetics, translational immunology, data analysis and the microbiome. Students will also be required to attend regular seminars within the Department and those relevant in the wider University.

Students will be expected to present data regularly in Departmental seminars, the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis Research Versus Arthritis meetings, and to attend external conferences to present their research globally, with limited financial support from the Department.

Students will also have the opportunity to work closely with the wider Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis Research Versus Arthritis, United Kingdom; Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine, Stellenbosch University and Sports Medicine and Sport Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Institute, University of Pretoria in South Africa; Sport and Exercise, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; British Association for Sports and Exercise Medicine, United Kingdom; Institute of Sports Medicine, Sri Lanka ; and National governing bodies such as Scottish Rugby, Rugby Football Union and New Zealand Rugby.

Students will have access to various courses run by the Medical Sciences Division Skills Training Team and other Departments. All students are required to attend a 2-day Statistical and Experimental Design course at NDORMS and run by the IT department (information will be provided once accepted to the programme).

How to Apply

The Department accepts applications throughout the year, but it is recommended that, in the first instance, you contact the relevant supervisor(s) or the Graduate Studies Officer, Sam Burnell (), who will be able to advise you of the essential requirements.

Interested applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class BSc degree or equivalent in a relevant subject and will also need to provide evidence of English language competence (where applicable). The application guide and form is found online (, and the MSc by research will commence in October 2020.

Applications should be made to one of the following programmes using the specified course code:

Musculoskeletal Sciences (course code: RD_ML2)
Molecular and Cellular Medicine (course code: RD_MP1)

For further information, please visit


Williams S, Trewartha G, Kemp S, et al. A meta-analysis of injuries in senior men’s professional Rugby Union. Sports medicine 2013;43(10):1043-55.
Freitag A, Kirkwood G, Scharer S, et al. Systematic review of rugby injuries in children and adolescents under 21 years. Br J Sports Med 2015;49:511–19.
Davies M, Judge A, Delmestri A, et al. Health amongst former rugby union players: A cross-sectional study of morbidity and health-related quality of life. Scientific reports 2017;7(1):11786.
Oja P, Titze S, Kokko S, et al. Health benefits of different sport disciplines for adults: systematic review of observational and intervention studies with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2015;49(7):434-40.
Griffin S, Panagodage Perera, N, Murray A, et al. The relationships between rugby union and health: a scoping review protocol BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Med. 2019

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