On being "head strong": The pain zone and concussion in non-elite rugby union

In recent years there has been growing concern about concussion in sport in general and rugby union in particular. The qualitative study reported here draws on interviews (n=20) with adult players in non-elite club rugby union in Ireland in order to explore the frames of reference within which they perceive, give meaning to and manage concussion. Within a sporting subculture which emphasises lay sporting values – particularly the value of “playing hurt” – and which reflects a functional view of injury, non-elite players tend to display an irreverent attitude towards concussion which encourages risky behaviours and underplays, ignores or denies the significance of concussion. We analogously describe these beliefs and actions as being “head strong”. The paper concludes by identifying the contextual contingencies which make the regulation of injuries in rugby union so difficult and by establishing some core principles of public health education campaigns that might be deployed to militate against the high incidence of concussive injury in future.