Rugby union is the third most popular contact sport. It’s popularity continues to grow with the player population in the U.S.A alone increasing by 25% in 2011.
Since Rugby went professional in 1995, players’ fitness levels have improved dramatically. Players have also bulked up mainly due to advanced conditioning and diet. The game is played at a greater intensity and the hits are getting harder and more frequent.
The way that the game is played has also changed considerably. It is reckoned that the ball is in play for a greater period of time than heretofore. When I was playing Rugby, we tried to run around the opposition whereas nowadays the tendency is to run straight into players. This has led to a marked increase in injuries to the upper body. Shoulder injuries in particular have increased in frequency and severity.
Pattern of Injuries
Most injuries occur during the act of tackling or being tackled. Tackle counts in a game have increased with some players making greater than 20 tackles in a game.
The majority of injuries occur during a match, however, up to 40% can occur during training. Injuries tend to occur at the start of the season and you are also more likely to get injured in the 2nd half of a game.
10-18 year olds and 25-34 year olds are at highest risk of injury. Forwards will sustain a greater percentage of injuries because of their greater involvement in physical collisions with hookers and Flankers having the higher risk.
In the backs, centres because of their involvement in higher speed tackles are the most vulnerable followed by full backs and wingers. If you want to extend to your career become a scrum half or out half!
Type of Injuries
40% of injuries are muscular.
30% are sprains followed by dislocations, fractures, lacerations and overuse injuries.
In men’s Rugby the lower limb is the most commonly injured site. (34-48% of all injuries with 1 in 7 ankle injuries)
The upper limb accounts for 15-29% of all injuries
The head and face is injured in 14-27% of cases.
Schoolboy Rugby and women’s Rugby have a higher incidence of injury to the head and face.
Serious spinal injures are thankfully very rare.
Preventing Rugby Injures
A significant amount of injures occur early in the season and obviously pre season preparation is extremely important. Adequate pre match warm-up and post match warm down is vital.
As most injuries occur in the tackle, I feel that increased emphasis needs to be placed on the technique of tackling and falling correctly. This is particularly true of underage Rugby and with players new to the game.
At under age level in New Zealand, players are matched for height and weight, and this might be worth considering in order for young players to gain confidence and also to minimize injury. The use of protective equipment is gaining momentum.
Gum shields are mandatory at underage level and should be used by all players not only to protect the teeth but also to reduce injuries to the upper and lower jaw.
Protective head gear is becoming more sophisticated and user friendly. It’s use certainly reduces the incidence of head injury. Cauliflower ears which were a badge of honour for many former players will probably become a thing of the past.
Shoulder pads are also becoming more popular, however, they cannot exceed 1cm in thickness and a density of 45kg per cubic meter. Unfortunately this has not been proven to substantially reduce the incidence of shoulder injuries.
Support bandaging for knees, wrists and hamstrings are of dubious value at best.
Injuries will always be a part of Rugby no matter what protection is taken and it is incumbent on all coaches to have injured players assessed by suitably qualified health professionals to get players fit again as soon as possible and to minimize any long term problems.