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The Osteopathic Foundation | Projects and Case Studies | Mild traumatic brain injury impact on professional rugby players
Projects and Case Studies | Mild traumatic brain injury impact on professional rugby players



Mild traumatic brain injury impact on professional rugby players

In a project partly funded by the oF, osteopath Tristan Delion is researching how mild head injuries amongst rugby players can cause functional and neurological changes in the brain.


At the start of the year, Tristan began a research project at Imperial College London, partly funded by the oF and which aimed to investigate the impact of mild traumatic brain injury on brain health in professional rugby players.

Head injuries in rugby

Playing rugby involves high-velocity physical contact between players and a recent surveillance study has revealed evidence of an increased prevalence of mild traumatic brain injury over the last 12 years.


To investigate the potential impact of traumatic brain injury at the functional level, Tristan used a technique called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which is a useful tool for detecting functional connectivity changes and network dysfunction because of traumatic brain injury.


A recent systematic review showed that the default mode network, which supports internal thought processing, and the somatosensory motor network, which is involved in motor skills and coordination were altered following head injury. In the research team’s study, they hypothesised that those networks would show altered functional connectivity in elite rugby players with sub-acute traumatic brain injury compared to non-injured rugby players.

Coding and programming

The neuroimaging study involved computing skills, and a large part of the work was to familiarise with the imaging software package FSL (a comprehensive library of analysis tools for fMRI, MRI and DTI brain imaging data) and the pre-processing steps associated with any fMRI research. During this research project, Imperial College London provided support to help Tristan with the coding and programming skills used in the pre-processing steps.


‘Although there are no clear outcomes from this project in its current form,’ explains Tristan, ‘I am highly grateful to the Osteopathic Foundation who is funding this opportunity. I am also thankful to Imperial College London for hosting me in the Department of Brain Science laboratory. Throughout this project, I have acquired knowledge in the field of traumatic brain injury in sports, and neuroimaging software uses. I hope to advance these skills further and implement them in my future research,’ he adds.


Interim Chair of the oF, Duncan Empey said, ‘The Foundation was pleased to fund this research project which helped Tristan acquire new skills in computing and neuroimaging as well as working towards increasing the knowledge of the profession on the impacts of mild traumatic brain injury in elite rugby players.’


Tristan Delion is an osteopath who qualified from the University College of Osteopathy in 2017.  After graduating, he gained experience in Asia, where he worked for a remote community in the Himalayas in Nepal. He then opened his own clinic in Biarritz, a small city in the southwest of France, where he treats a variety of patients. In the meantime, he also published a qualitative study in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, which focused on student osteopaths’ attitudes towards low back pain and psychosocial risk factors.


Being interested in how we perceive the world through our senses and how the brain makes us who we are, in 2020, he enrolled in a MSc in Neuroscience with Universté de Bordeaux. To complete his degree, he joined Imperial College London for six months to study traumatic brain injury in rugby players using functional magnetic resonance imaging.


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