It’s getting close to the start of rugby season and with many players being less active in recent months due to Covid-19 restrictions, extra care needs to be taken to minimise the risk of injury. If you do get injured, when should you get a diagnosis and seek treatment?
Rugby Injuries: Players at Risk Study Finds
A study by researchers at Durham University, published in the journal Sports Medicine, found that both elite and amateur rugby players are at risk of recurrent injuries and could face long-term problems. Sport and exercises scientists who carried out the research called on rugby authorities to do more to prevent injuries.
While the most common injury was concussion – with most players suffering at least one incident during their career – musculoskeletal injuries also occurred regularly. Almost half of players questioned had sustained a knee ligament injury and a quarter of them continued to experience problems.
Osteoarthritis twice as likely
Former players – both amateur and elite – suffer from severe and regular joint pain and back pain which they attribute to the impact of cumulative injuries sustained over their playing career. Osteoarthritis occurred twice as often in elite rugby players compared to athletes competing in non-contact sports and this, too, was linked to previous injuries and surgery.
The study, in collaboration with academics from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, compared injuries from 254 male elite players, amateur players and other types of non-contact athletes, such as cricketers. It considered retired athletes ranging from 21 to 82 years.
Increased injury risk
One of the report’s authors and project lead, Dr Karen Hind said the injuries sustained playing rugby can lead to lasting impacts and said that the way the sport is played now – with a focus on running through opponents rather than evading – is likely to lead to increased injury risk.
She also said that more realistic injury recovery times were important and called on doctors and rugby clubs to support this.
Common rugby injuries
The injuries we most commonly see in clinic here at Joseph Queally are:
- Hamstring strains: this is when one of the hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh becomes torn. It usually happens while sprinting and it ranges in severity from grade 1, which may cause minor pain, to grade 3, which may result in being unable to walk.
- Sprained ankle: this is when the ankle rolls inwards causing damage to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Pain is normally felt around the ankle joint, particularly on the outside of the ankle.
- Medial collateral ligament injury: the MCL ligament provides strength and stability to the knee joint. It may become torn or ruptured due to a blow to the knee or a sudden change of direction while running. The severity of injury is graded from 1 to 3 with 3 being the most severe.
Other common rugby injuries which we don’t treat (as we concentrate on lower limb) include:
- Concussion and head injuries
- Thumb injuries including dislocations and fractures
- Acromio Clavicular joint sprain
Diagnosing rugby injuries
It is important to get a proper diagnosis if an injury causes severe pain, or does not improve within a few days or interferes with everyday activities.
An orthopaedic surgeon will carry out a physical examination and may use diagnostic imaging tests, such as X-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI scans, to see what is going on.
Treatment of rugby injuries
Initially, using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can help to reduce swelling and painkillers can reduce pain. The treatment that is recommended will depend on the type and severity of the injury. In the case of an MCL injury, you may need to use crutches to keep weight off your injured knee.
This type of injury rarely requires surgery except when the ligament is torn in such a way that the ligament can’t repair itself or if other ligament injuries have occurred. An arthroscope may be used to look inside your knee prior to surgery to examine the extent of the injury. This involves inserting a tiny cameral through a small incision on your knee.
As the Durham study points out, realistic recovery times are important and so, too, is proper rehabilitation to help you recover fully from injury. Your surgeon may recommend physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles and improve range of motion, a protective brace to support the affected joint or rest to prevent further injury.
If you sustain a rugby injury or another type of sporting injury, Joseph Queally can provide a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan to help you make a good recovery.