Rugby Injury Prevention | Treatment & Prevention Strategies

Originally Published May 31, 2022

Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world. Rugby requires a high level of endurance, agility, and speed, and being a contact sport, comes with the potential for overuse injuries, head injuries, and traumatic injuries. You will find more detail about these types of injuries below, in addition to some tips for treatment and prevention if you get a sports injury so that you can return to play.

Injuries caused by trauma/tackle

Since rugby is a sport that involves a lot of collisions, injuries caused by trauma occur regularly. The tackle accounts for 52% of rugby union injuries in recent studies in NSW. Traumatic injuries can be fractured bones, dislocated shoulders and fingers, cuts, sprains in the ligaments and tendons, as well as muscle bruises. If helmets and other facial protection are not worn, facial fractures and cuts to the face are more likely to occur in rugby. Injuries from contact forces such as knee injuries, as well as shoulder dislocation and sprains, are also likely to occur.

Head injuries: Concussion

Head injuries are a common injury that rugby players suffer, due to the amount of speed, contact and tackling that is done in rugby union. Symptoms of concussion include confusion, dizziness, headaches, light-headedness, and forgetfulness. Every rugby player that has a suspected concussion should be taken out of the game and properly taken care of, vetted, and cleared by a sports medicine professional before the player is allowed to return to the game.

Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries such as knee tendonitis or ankle tendonitis, stress syndrome involved with the media tibia, and bursitis are very common in rugby players. Overextension and overuse injuries have been shown to account for 14.5% of injuries in rugby union in NSW. In the same study, we saw that over 50% of reported injuries did not result in lost games. These injuries are not as serious as head injuries and neck injuries, but without proper care and attention, they can affect the player’s overall performance as well as complicate issues in the long run. Therefore, they should be checked out by a sports medicine professional such as a physiotherapist.

What is the most common injury in rugby union?

The most common injury in rugby union is sprain and strain injuries. They account for over 58% of all rugby injuries.

One of the most common sprains is the ankle sprain. This can happen when a player is trying to run or sidestep another player and awkwardly plants their foot.

Also, the wrist sprain is a painful regular injury for rugby players. When a player is falling to the ground, our instinct is to stick our hands out first. Then, your wrists receive all your weight and possibly extra weight from someone tackling you.

The best treatment for sprain and strain injuries is the RICE method. This at-home care treatment uses Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation to help minor injuries.

Sprains and strains aren’t worth stressing over and they’re quite mild in comparison with more serious injuries like concussions.

What causes the most common injury in rugby union?

The most frequent cause of injury in rugby is the tackle as you’re putting your body on the line to stop the opponent from moving forward and you’re receiving the full force of a charging player.

Limbs might be forced into awkward positions and have the weight of the person (and possibly another player tackling them) all on a single hand or foot. This often results in injuries like sprains. 

How to Manage Rugby Injuries

Rugby injuries are inevitable and being able to manage them is very important. There is a difference between treatment and management.

You should treat an injury if it’s serious or semi-serious and you should have a solution that will allow it to heal faster or better or with less pain.

You, technically, manage an injury when there is no solution or it’s a minor injury and not worth the effort or money to ‘fix’.

Most rugby injuries are minimal and need to only be managed, not treated. The best way to manage your rugby injuries is to simply do no more harm. This means as little movement as possible and elevating/protecting the injured area.

However, in some cases, managing just isn’t enough and you need to seek proper treatment. 

Treatment of injuries caused by rugby

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To return to play the rugby player will have to work on strength, endurance, as well as flexibility. This is also important to avoid sustaining secondary injuries caused by the primary ones. Ensuring that the player has a high endurance level is a very effective way of checking if they are ready to return to the game.

How to prevent rugby injuries

Rugby has a high risk of injury. However, many of them are preventable. Here are some of the best tips and tricks to prevent rugby injuries:

  • Wear protective gear. A mouthguard protects your teeth from being chipped or broken while a head guard cushions you against
  • concussions. 
  • Use the correct technique. This is important as you must tackle and take a tackle in a way that your body absorbs all the force instead of breaking under it.
  • Warm up and cool down. Stretching your muscles before you play helps prevent overuse injuries like tendonitis.
  • Stay hydrated. Rugby expends a lot of energy and increases your blood temperature meaning you need plenty of water to stay hydrated. 
  • Train. Rugby requires plenty of strength, endurance and even flexibility. You’ll want to prepare your body through training.

These are some of the most effective ways to prevent rugby injuries and they can easily be introduced into your routine.

There is also an excellent Rugby Union Fact Sheet written by the Department of Planning and Community Development and VicHealth and published on the Sports Medicine Australia website.

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The information provided on this blog is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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