The very things that make rugby such an exciting sport to watch and play are what put players at the greatest risk of injury, unfortunately. The sport is high impact, involving full-force tackling, as well as fast-paced sprinting and sudden changes of direction.
With the severity injuries continuing to rise in the professional game, the head of medicine for English rugby recently called on managers of the Rugby Football Union to consider making changes to reduce the players’ injury risk. And, of course, it’s not just professional players who get injured.
Preventing rugby injuries
If you play rugby at whatever level, there are things you can do to prevent yourself from getting injured or to reduce the severity of injury if you do. These are our top injury prevention tips:
- Wear the right protective gear and check that it is in good condition and not damaged. A mouthguard and proper fitting, supportive footwear are essential.
- Have proper coaching so you learn the correct techniques. It’s important to keep your skills up to date and to maintain a good level of fitness. If you’ve had a break from training, some refresher training can help you to ensure you’re playing according to the latest sporting approaches.
- Build up gradually. Pushing yourself too hard or too fast is a common cause of injury. It is important to build up your fitness slowly and to know your limits.
- Warm up and cool down properly. A coach or physiotherapist will be able to recommend a programme of stretching and strengthening exercises that can help you avoid strains and sprains.
- Don’t continue playing if you get injured. Continuing to play could risk a far more severe injury.
Diagnosing rugby injuries
Some rugby injuries will respond well to at-home treatments using the PRICE method (protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation of the injured limb above the level of the heart). Painkillers and anti-inflammatories may also help. However, for more severe injuries or those that fail to respond to such simple measures, you will need to seek medical help.
An accurate diagnosis is essential as some injuries can worsen or become chronic without appropriate treatment. A doctor will carry out a physical examination and you may need to undergo diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray, CT or MRI scan. This will reveal the type and extent of the injury so your doctor can decide on the most appropriate course of action.
Treatment of common rugby injuries
The treatment that is recommended will depend on what type of injury you have sustained and how bad it is. Generally, surgery is only offered as a last resort once other less invasive approaches had been tried.
In some cases, however, surgery might be the only way to regain strength and movement in the affected limb. Some of the most common rugby injuries include:
Hand and wrist injuries
- Thumb sprains happen when the thumb is pushed outside of its normal range of movement. Treatment is important to avoid recurrence and long-term weakness of the thumb. Apply ice as soon as possible after injury and wear a compression bandage to reduce swelling. A thumb splint or taping can help support rehabilitation and prevent recurrence of injury. Seek specialist help to exclude associated fractures, dislocations and complete ligament injuries. It is not possible to exclude a fracture from how a thumb looks or that is still moves.
- Fractures or dislocations of the wrist or fingers may occur as the result of sudden impact or being bent backwards. Jersey finger is where one of the tendons that are used to flex and bend the fingers is pulled off the bone. The injury is often without much pain so be wary. Surgery is normally needed to reattach the tendon to the distal phalange, followed by rehabilitation to prevent stiffness.
Read more about Hand and Wrist conditions.
Shoulder and elbow
- Shoulder dislocations are common in high impact contact sports like rugby. The upper arm bone is pushed out of the socket, causing damage to the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. You should never try to put the bone back into the socket yourself. You may require a closed reduction (where the doctor puts the dislocated bone back without surgery) or an open reduction (where the dislocated bone is put back in place surgically). Sometimes arthroscopic surgery may be used for players who experience recurrent dislocations.
- AC joint sprains are injuries to the ligament that holds the acromioclavicular joint together at the top of the shoulder. They are often the result of a fall onto an outstretched arm. They are graded in severity from one to six. The mainstay of treatment is physiotherapy with consideration of surgery for more severe injuries.
Read more about Shoulder and Elbow conditions.
Knee and thigh
- Hamstring strains are tears to the muscles at the back of the thigh. They may occur when sprinting or stretching. Sometimes, hamstring pain may be caused by referred pain from the lower back or hip. Treatment may include sports massage, taping or exercise.
- Common knee injuries include medial collateral ligament, chondral/meniscal injuries and anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may require surgical ligament repair or reconstruction which may have an extended recovery time.
Read more about Knee and Thigh conditions.
Foot and ankle
- Ankle sprains are very common, the majority should settle with (PRICE); protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. If there is a persistence of pain or instability (ankle giving way) it is worth seeing your sports physiotherapist or a foot and ankle specialist to exclude more significant injury to the ligaments, cartilage or tendons.
- Fractures can also occur involving the ankle, the metatarsal bones, which will require immobilisation and sometimes surgery.
Read more about Foot and Ankle conditions.
Sometimes the road to recovery from rugby injuries can be a long one so it is essential to avoid becoming injured wherever possible and to take appropriate action if you do get injured, which means getting a proper diagnosis so you can undergo the right course of treatment.
Orthopaedic specialists – Nottingham
Our orthopaedic consultants each specialise in a particular area of orthopaedics, giving you added peace of mind that you are receiving expert medical advice and highly tailored treatment.
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