Rugby is a full-contact sport, and therefore it is inevitable that injuries can occur during the course of play. Across an average season, 1 in 4 players will receive an injury which puts them out of the game for 1 or more matches. Many other players will receive smaller injuries which do not affect their ability to continue play.
To minimise the risk of injury it is important that players are trained how to tackle safely but effectively. Players should also understand how to warm-up properly before a match or a training session, so that they can avoid pulled muscles and joint injuries. Statistically, injuries are more likely to happen during the second half of the game, when players begin to feel tired. Players also put themselves at risk of injury when they are playing against opponents who do not have them same sporting ability.
Muscular Strains and Joint injuries
The most common injury type in rugby is muscle strain (or “pulled muscles”). Muscular strains can occur when muscles have not been warmed up properly before use, or when the muscles are pushed beyond their normal limit. Muscles may also cramp, which involves an involuntary shortening of the muscles, leading to intense pain. Continuing to over-work muscles which are already strained may impede recovery and can cause lasting damage.
Putting strapping on a muscle or joint injury can allow a player to play on in some circumstances, although this is only recommended with the advice of a medical professional.
Depending on the type of rugby and the standard of play, between 5 and 25% of injuries which occur are head injuries. Almost half of all head injuries are concussions. The impact of head injuries can be minimised for the players who are most at risk by wearing the correct headgear. It is worth noting that repeated concussions can cause lasting brain injuries, so it is important to take every step to prevent these injuries from occurring.
Recently in America, a plan to compensate former NFL players that have suffered head injuries has just been approved due to multiple lawsuits being brought against the NFL.
Although claims for brain injuries are not as common over here at this time, it isn’t unrealistic to imagine that head and brain injury claims from rugby players whether professional or not may increase in the future. We only have to look at the recent changes being made during and since the 2015 Six Nations championship to see that concussions are being treated a lot more cautiously.
In younger players, fractures are one of the most common types of injuries, making up approximately 35% of all injuries. Fracture injuries are less common in older players who have a better understanding of how to tackle and be tackled properly. Around a quarter of all fracture injuries that occur involve the collarbone.
Scratches, bruises and abrasions are a very common part of rugby, although many of these injuries will not put players out of play. Scratches and injuries which cause light bruises often occur during very physical parts of play, such as the scrum. Friction burns can also occur when players are tackled and end up sliding along the ground at speed.
To prevent infections, any mud or dirt should always been cleaned out of the wound, and an anti-bacterial ointment may be applied.
Cauliflower ears are a type of injury which is almost synonymous with rugby. These injuries are caused by repeated damage to the ears, including damage from blows, unnatural bending or even just repeated pressure on the ear lobe. When the ear is damaged regularly, some sections of the ear do not heal properly, and the tissue begins to die. The dead tissue can be replaced by thick fibrous membrane, and leaves the ear looking deformed (and cauliflower–like).
Joints can become dislocated by heavy tackles. Whilst it is usually possible for a medical professional to pop these joints back into place when a dislocation has occurred, the sufferer will have to be especially careful with that joint until it is fully recovered.
Some dislocations will need additional medical attention, and pain medication is usually required during treatment, as the process of relocating the joint can be incredibly painful.
Trapped nerves and the various medical syndromes which are associated with trapped nerves can also affect rugby players. These injuries happen when something in the body becomes misaligned and affects a nerve. This is either caused by something pressing against the nerve, or by the nerve becoming irritated and inflamed. The affected nerve may not necessarily be in the area where the pain is felt, because a trapped nerve in one place can cause pain or tingling in another area of the body. Physiotherapy can help to cure trapped nerves.