Already one of the world’s most played sports, the popularity of rugby is rapidly increasing. In 2017 around 3 million players were registered at various levels from the pros to those turning out for their local club or pub team at the weekends in parks all over the world. The United Kingdom and Ireland has nearly 560,000 registered participants.
Even in the USA, which you wouldn’t normally associate with rugby, there are more than 80,000 players registered. Growing disenchantment with the NFL, which has so many rules and is perceived to be all about the money, has led to many Americans being attracted to rugby by the traditions of the game and the culture of respect, especially for the referee.
However, playing rugby is not for the light of heart and players need high levels of fitness and stamina for the amount of running involved and physical presence to endure the hard contact. In any impact sport, regardless of how fit the players are, injuries are inevitably going to be sustained. Falls and collisions cause a variety of injury types from minor cuts, abrasions and sprains to dislocations, fractures and head injuries.
Players at professional clubs have qualified trainers to guide them through structured training sessions and doctors and physios to identify injuries and treat them accordingly. Following an injury, the player won’t (or shouldn’t) be cleared to return to training until they are deemed to be ready.
But the amateurs at grass root level are in control of their fitness, and maybe have inappropriate training methods. Also, after an injury, possibly through not wanting to let the side down, a player will frequently start playing again too soon. This can result in repetitive injuries where the problem is recurring in the same area. That is especially worrying where head injuries are concerned.
Soft Tissue Damage
Damage to the soft tissues are the most common rugby injuries. These involve tendons, ligaments and muscles with about one third of injuries being muscle related. The rapid direction changes and twisting and turning involved in rugby are typical causes. Insufficient recovery time between periods of extreme activity can also lead to soft tissue damage.
Using a structured, rugby specific training routine with controlled warm up and cooling down periods will help to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury. Warming up correctly stretches the tissues and increases the oxygen flow to the muscles. Studies have shown that a twenty-minute warm up before training and a slightly shorter one before a match can reduce injuries by 29%. Rugby training should involve sudden bursts of speed and sharp changes in direction.
After a lay off through injury, the player’s fitness needs to be built up slowly and any impact to the injured area should be avoided.
Trauma injuries are usually caused by collisions with other players or impact with the ground. Bruises, cuts, dislocated joints, fractures and face, neck or head injuries are typical traumas. Treatment for these injuries can range from sticking on a plaster and carrying on, to weeks or possibly months of recovery and physiotherapy.
Scrum caps and gumshields can help to avoid some trauma injuries, such as head abrasions and mouth damage, but impact injuries, by their nature, happen suddenly and are to be expected in a contact sport like rugby.
An unfortunately too common injury in rugby is a concussion. Although it is a type of trauma injury, it a serious one and a contentious issue within the sport. A concussion is damage to the brain caused by it impacting with the inside of the skull, usually as a result of a direct impact to the head. However, it can also be caused by severe shaking of the head caused by a collision. Concussion from shaking is sometimes not apparent and if it goes undetected it can have dangerous consequences.
At all matches and training sessions there should be someone qualified in first aid who recognises the symptoms of concussion. These can include a sate of confusion, a blank look, memory loss and acting distractedly or slowly. The victim could be nauseous, dizzy or be suffering from blurry vision, pains in the stomach and tinnitus. The player must not be allowed to continue playing or training and should be taken to hospital to be checked over.
If you suspect that a team mate is concussed you should immediately draw the attention of a match official, coach or first aider.
The brain damage is generally temporary but, as with other trauma injuries, the recovery time depends on the severity and it will heal only with complete mental and physical rest. Driving should be avoided and prolonged use of computers, tablets, smart phones or watching TV is not recommended. Resuming physical activity too soon could result in the symptoms getting worse and there is also the risk of a secondary concussion which can result in long-term damage.
Suffering repetitive concussion injuries has been shown to have links to motor neurone disease and, in later life, Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been suggested by some medical experts that rugby should be banned from schools or that there should be no tackling in youth rugby. These ideas have not received backing from CMOs in the UK or from a leading charity for brain injuries, Headway.
The stance of World Rugby is to concentrate on teaching children the correct way to tackle at a young age. Training and awareness are key.
Calls for helmets to be made compulsory have also been rejected, so far. American football, despite the protective clothing, has a far higher incidence of concussion injuries than occur in rugby. It is believed that helmets instil overconfidence causing harder clashes resulting in shaking concussions.
Head Injury Compensation
Playing a contact sport carries with it inherent injury risks that you are considered to have accepted by participating. But if you receive a head injury due to the recklessness or negligence of someone else, you should seek the advice of a legal expert, as you might be able to make a claim for compensation.