5 Common Rugby Injuries and How to Prevent and Treat Them

Posted in Injury Recovery   |   By

Erin Barsness

September 19, 2019

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Over the last decade, rugby has grown to become one of the most watched sports in the world.

As the game progresses, so are the demands placed on the players in terms of fitness, power, pace, and strength. Today, rugby players are some of the best-conditioned athletes. This, however, does not mean they're indestructible.

Rugby is a contact sport and has injury rates three times higher than that of soccer. Whether a player is tackling or being tackled, the injury risks are ever present. As a player, getting injured is never fun, apart from the pain, there are the long periods spent on the sidelines prevented from doing what you love most--playing rugby.

Here, we look at five of the most common rugby related injuries that occur and how best to treat and prevent them;

1. Head Injuries

Injuries to the head range from scalp lacerations, facial injuries, to concussions. More severe injuries include skull fractures and compression injuries; this is when a fracture puts the brain under severe pressure and can lead to brain damage. Symptoms of compression injuries are similar to those of a concussion but tend to last longer.

Several things can cause head injuries; the head's position in a scrum, for instance, makes it vulnerable to injury. With head injuries, the location of the blow has a more significant bearing than the force applied.

  • Treatment

The type of treatment depends on the kind of head injury. Emergency department doctors can handle broken noses and lacerations. For concussions, an ice pack and rest often work to clear the symptoms. Though if they persist, you should seek medical attention immediately to limit the damage. Have all head injuries medically assessed as soon as possible.

  • Prevention

Due to the contact nature of the sport, it is difficult to prevent head injuries from occurring altogether adequately. However, steps are being made by the International Rugby Board (IRB) and RFU to improve awareness on concussion and compression injuries among coaches, players, and referees.

The process for suspected injuries is also being standardized with the IRB ensuring that a player who has suffered a concussion does not play or train for at least three weeks from the time of injury, and has to be cleared to return to action after medical examinations have found him or her to be symptom-free.

Other players have changed their technique and style of play and are also using protective headgear, like the Mueller® Face Guard. This face guard protects the skull, nasal, and orbital areas, absorbing some of the force caused by impacts, while also lowering the incidence of injuries like lacerations. 

2. Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder pain and injuries are extensive and vary both in type and in treatment and prevention. Those most commonly experienced in rugby include;

Soft Tissue Bruising:

The blows a player experiences can lead to the soft tissue of the pectoralis, trapezius, and deltoid muscles being bruised. Though they occur regularly, this type of shoulder injury is not long-term.

Rotator cuff:

Injuries to the rotator cuff range from a sprain to a tear, and are a result of forcing an extended arm downwards either during a tackle or a fall.

Acromioclavicular joint sprain:

This is one of the most common shoulder injuries, often occurring after falling directly onto the shoulder, causing a rupture of the ligaments responsible for stabilizing the joint resulting in a sprain or dislocation. The severity of the injury is categorized according to grades. Grade I and II are very common and are often handled by team physicians with grade III requiring specialists. 

  • Treatment

Physiotherapists can handle soft tissue and minor rotator cuff injuries. In case there is a suspected rotator cuff tear, there will be a need to have a specialist examine the injury to confirm its severity, and whether surgery will be needed.

During the initial stages of an AC injury, pain-relieving medication helps.

Also, apply ice to the injured shoulder for twenty minutes every two hours. A physiotherapist can implement a taping technique to push the collar bone down.

In severe sprains, put the shoulder in a sling and rest. Most players return to action in around seven to ten days when the ligament damage is minor.

  • Prevention

The frequency of collisions in rugby makes it hard to prevent shoulder injuries. You can always implement ways of reinforcing the ligaments; the use of shoulder support can be quite helpful.

3. Hamstring Injury

The increased physical demands of the game have seen an increase in strain placed on lower limbs. This added strain can lead to injuries to certain parts of the body, such as the hamstring.

There are a lot of factors that determine the occurrence of a hamstring injury. It includes; tired muscles, ineffective warm up, and weak or tight hamstring muscles.

While sprinting, the hamstring muscle tends to be stretched; sometimes beyond its limits. A hamstring injury occurs when the muscle fibers making up the hamstring tear as a result of added strain.

The degree of classification refers to the severity of the injury.

Grade 1:

This applies to a mild strain on some of the hamstring muscle fibers. You may feel tightness and slight pain when the muscles stretch or contract

Grade 2:

The stress on the muscles is more significant, and so is the pain. Sometimes there might be swelling. 

Grade 3:

This type of injury is more severe. It is characterized by stabbing pain and the inability to walk without pain. This usually signifies a rapture of the hamstring muscles and should be examined by a physiotherapist to identify the extent of the damage entirely.

  • Treatment

It is essential that the injury is reviewed by a doctor. Limit the damage by following the PRICE regime; Protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Consider applying ice to the area and limiting the use of the hamstrings by using crutches. Once the pain settles, you can proceed with rehabilitation. It is vital to strengthen the muscle through exercise. Be careful not to do too much too soon and aggravate the injury.

  • Prevention

The good news is there are a few ways to help you avoid hamstring injuries. Improve your overall conditioning, strength, and running technique. Warming up before matches and training reduces the risk of muscle strain injuries; also consider introducing recovery techniques like ice baths after.

4. Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

The MCL is one of the ligaments in your knee that add strength and stability to the joint. Injury to the MCL happens when the ligament fibers are either torn or ruptured, usually as a result of a blow to the knee. Sometimes it can occur due to sudden changes of direction when running.

Since the symptoms of an ACL injury are similar to those of other knee injuries, you should have a doctor assess your knee when you experience the following:

  • A popping sound when injured
  • Swelling of the joint along with tenderness and pain on the knee's inner part
  • Catching or locking in the knee joint

The extent of MCL injuries is categorized according to grades; 1, 2, and 3. Grade 1 implies the ligament has only been stretched; grade 2 signifies a partially torn ligament, while grade 3 is the most severe and refers to a completely torn ligament. Grade 2 and three are often characterized by instability in the knee.

  • Treatment

Treating an MCL injury depends on the severity of the injury. Immediate treatments such as icing, compressing and elevating the knee, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, help ease pain and swelling.

It is rare that an MCL injury will need surgery unless the ligament has been torn in a way that makes it impossible for it to repair itself. As you recover, it is essential to regain strength through physical therapy and wearing a knee brace during strenuous activities.

  • Prevention

Employ the use of condition training as well as speed work to boost the strength and resilience of your knee. 

5. Ankle Lateral Ligament Injury

This refers to the damage of the soft tissue around the ankle as a result of the ankle twisting inwards. They occur when you roll your ankle on unstable ground or when you awkwardly plant your foot when running, leading to damage that causes tissue bleeding and swelling of the ankle.

The extent of the injury varies from mild damage, partial tear to a complete tear of the ligament, causing joint instability.

  • Treatment

Following an sprained ankle, follow the PRICE protocol. Protect the ankle with a brace. Resting the ligament prevents further irritation and bleeding. Applying ice, compression, and elevation will mitigate the swelling.

It is recommended that you not take anti-inflammatories immediately after the injury because the natural inflammation contains chemicals necessary for healing. If the swelling does not go down after a few days, consult your physician.

  • Prevention

Taping the ankle during matches and training lowers risks of ankle sprains. Proprioception training is another effective way of reducing ankle sprains since it boosts the strength and flexibility of the ankle joint.

We hope this article has been helpful and will go a long way in not only aiding your recovery but also preventing injuries as well. Read more about the injuries we commonly experience, their causes, and how to effectively treat and prevent them on our Stay in the Game® blog.

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