With the Six Nations Rugby Tournament starting again this week, we have a guest blog from Chris Jenkins, a Specialist Rugby Physio, who used to work for Central Health, but returned to his native Wales. We asked him to give us his top 17 tips for preventing the most common rugby injuries.
I’m deeply passionate about rugby, a sport known for its physical demands and the injuries that often come with it. It’s crucial for us, as physiotherapists, to be fully aware of the risks involved and to embrace strategies that help prevent and manage these common injuries. In this article, I’m going to delve into the most frequent injuries I’ve encountered in rugby and share 14 of my top physio tips for sidestepping and tackling these issues head-on.
Understanding the Risks of Rugby Injuries
From my experience, playing rugby puts you at a significant risk of injury due to the sport’s inherently physical nature. The list of common injuries is long and includes sprains, strains, ligament injuries, and fractures. Head injuries, particularly concussions, are also a major concern and can have serious long-term consequences if not properly managed.
Concussions are alarmingly common in rugby, and it’s vital to grasp the full impact these head injuries can have on player safety. Overuse injuries like hamstring strains and tendon issues are also frequent, stemming from the repetitive actions that define the sport.
What Are The 8 Most Common Rugby Injuries?
My time with professional and international rugby teams has shown me firsthand the variety of injuries that can occur. Here’s a rundown of the eight most common injuries I’ve seen:
- Concussions: These are worryingly frequent due to the game’s high-impact nature. Research shows that concussions are particularly prevalent in professional rugby, with one of the highest incidence rates among team sports.
- Muscle strains: Hamstring and calf strains are all too common, thanks to the sprinting, abrupt stops, and explosive movements the sport demands. They’re among the top injuries, affecting a significant portion of players.
- Ligament sprains: The knees and ankles take a beating in rugby, with the ACL and MCL in the knee being especially at risk. Ankle sprains are also a regular occurrence.
- Dislocations and fractures: The rough contact in rugby often leads to shoulder dislocations and clavicle fractures. These injuries can vary in frequency but are notable for their potential need for surgery and long recovery periods.
- Cuts and lacerations: Given rugby’s physicality, these injuries are common and can happen during tackles and scrums. They may be less severe but still require medical attention.
- Overuse injuries: Repetitive stress and impacts can lead to issues like Achilles tendonitis and patellar tendonitis, which are common complaints among players, particularly those with intense training and match schedules.
- Rib injuries: The impacts from tackles and collisions can lead to painful rib contusions and even fractures, which vary in prevalence but are a significant concern due to the discomfort and breathing difficulties they can cause.
- Acromioclavicular (AC) joint injuries: Falling or being hit on the shoulder, a common occurrence in tackles or when being brought to the ground, frequently leads to AC joint injuries, ranging from minor sprains to more severe separations.
Implementing Injury Prevention Strategies
Wearing protective gear is crucial for reducing injury risk. Helmets, mouth guards, and shoulder pads provide some level of protection during the physical exchanges that define rugby. First aid is equally essential, with well-stocked kits needed at both training sessions and matches to ensure injuries are managed swiftly.
Reducing head injury rates is a priority, and techniques like proper tackling form and educating players on the risks of high tackles can significantly decrease the likelihood of concussions and other head injuries. Advanced technologies like accelerometers in mouth guards are changing how we manage head impacts, though currently, these are only available at the elite levels.
Managing and Treating Rugby Injuries
Quickly addressing sprains and strains is key to effective injury management. As a physiotherapist, my role involves providing rehabilitation and ensuring players get the care and guidance they need to recover fully.
Return-to-play protocols are vital for determining when it’s safe for a player to get back into the game, helping to avoid premature returns and the risk of further injury.
Role of Physiotherapists in Rugby Injury Prevention
My expertise in sports medicine puts me in a unique position to contribute significantly to managing and preventing rugby injuries. The key lies in accurately diagnosing injuries, as even a minor issue can sideline a top player.
Our mornings often start with meetings between medical and coaching staff to discuss each player’s status, which helps in planning training and rehabilitation sessions. The image of a physio running onto the field with a first aid kit is just a small part of our role in maintaining player health.
Promoting Safe Practices in Rugby
Minimising injury risk involves teaching players proper techniques for tackling and scrummaging. It’s also important to understand the impact of overuse on the body and to implement strategies to prevent long-term injuries.
Preventing rugby injuries is a comprehensive effort that includes prevention strategies, prompt injury management, and promoting safe playing techniques. Educating coaches and prioritising player safety can significantly reduce common injuries and create a safer environment for everyone involved.
7 Injury Recovery and Injury Reduction Tips
Rugby is a demanding sport that requires both physical and mental toughness. However, the risk of injury is ever-present, affecting players at all levels. Drawing on extensive experience working with amateur to professional teams, and insights from recent studies, here are my top 10 tips for players and coaches to minimise injuries:
- Understand the Common Injuries: Familiarise yourself with frequent rugby injuries, such as concussions, shoulder dislocations, and knee ligament tears. Awareness is the first step toward prevention.
- Emphasise Proper Technique: Whether it’s tackling, scrummaging, or ball handling, correct technique can significantly reduce injury risk. Coaches should prioritise technique in training sessions.
- Strength and Conditioning: Tailor strength and conditioning programs to rugby’s demands, focusing on both injury prevention and performance enhancement. Include exercises that mimic on-field movements.
- Prioritise Flexibility and Mobility: Regular stretching and mobility exercises can prevent injuries by improving flexibility and range of motion, particularly in joints under high stress in rugby.
- Implement Injury Prevention Programs: Adopt or develop comprehensive injury prevention programs that include warm-up routines, strength training, and balance exercises.
- Encourage Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest is crucial for injury prevention. Ensure players have enough downtime and utilise recovery techniques like foam rolling, massage, and proper sleep.
- Nutrition and Hydration: A well-balanced diet and adequate hydration support muscle recovery and overall health, reducing injury risk.
- Wear Appropriate Gear: Use well-fitting protective gear, including mouth guards, headgear, and shoulder pads, to mitigate injury risk during play.
- Educate on Concussion Management: Players and coaches must understand concussion signs and protocols. Immediate and appropriate action is critical for player safety.
- Foster Open Communication: Encourage players to communicate openly about their physical condition, discomfort, or injury concerns. Early intervention can prevent more serious injuries.
By adopting these strategies, players and coaches can work together to create a safer playing environment, enhancing both individual well-being and team performance.
Remember, prevention is key, and staying informed and proactive is the best defense against injuries in rugby.
What can you do? 7 Top Tips To Help You Recover
Here are some simple tips everyone can use to recover from injuries and reduce injury risk:
- Review and improve your sleep patterns.
- Ensure your diet supports muscle recovery and function.
- Incorporate light and recovery days into your routine.
- Consider cold showers or contrast baths post-exercise.
- Try incorporating massage into your recovery process.
- Use warm-up exercises to assess your body’s readiness for intense activity.
- Report and get early checks for any injuries.
If you’d like to learn more, check out my TikTok channel for videos with tips on preventing and understanding rugby injuries. If you need treatment for your rugby injuries, my colleagues at Central Health can help you return to play better than before. Get in touch to book in and deal with your injury sooner rather than later.