The 2019 Rugby World Cup has focused the world’s attention on a sport where injury is the norm. Some teams have played games that are just four days apart and, because of the intensity of the action, injuries become part and parcel.
Statistics have shown that for every 1000 hours of playtime within the Rugby Football Union, (RFU) there is 86 injuries as per the 2017/18 season. This compares to 17 for international football and just 2.8 for international cricket.
Many situations around the rugby field particularly increase the chance of injury occurring, such as tackling and scrummaging. The average force through the shoulder during a tackle is 166kg and stresses are passed right through the body to the neck, upper back, arms, low back, hips, knees and ankles. Injuries don’t just occur with contact; as with any physical activity muscular injuries can also occur when running and kicking.
As with many sports, rugby injuries fall into two categories: traumatic and overuse. Traumatic injuries usually result from tackles or collisions with other players and are often unavoidable, even during training. Concussions, ligament damage and fractures do occur on the pitch although the impact and severity of these traumatic injuries can be reduced by maintaining good technique at all times as well as wearing gum shields, headgear and shoulder pads.
Overuse injuries build over time and are the result of the combined negative effects of a mildly traumatic action that’s repeated over and over again. Shin splints that result from regular training and practicing are an example of overuse or chronic injury. The injury usually starts as a niggling discomfort with increasing pain developed over time.
It is also common for an overuse injury to develop into an acute traumatic injury where a succession of micro-traumas weakens the area making it more susceptible. Sudden sprains, muscles and ligament tears often occur in this manner.
The most common rugby injuries are leg injuries such as groin or hamstring strains where adductor or hamstring muscles are stretched beyond their limits. Strain injuries can vary in intensity but are usually painful and result in swelling, bruising and a reduced ability to use the affected muscle. The same occurs for a sprain with the ligaments that support the joints becoming over-stretched. Pain, swelling and bruising occur along with difficulty moving the joint. Joints commonly affected in this way during rugby participation are shoulders, lower back and sacroiliac joints.
Rapid stopping, starting and changing direction also places stress onto the knees and ankles. The structure of the knee means a ligament injury is most common, with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) strains, ruptures and tears, the most common. Both the ACL and PCL can be injured or torn by a sudden twisting of the knee joint. Meniscal (cartilage discs that sit in between the femur and tibia) injuries also commonly occur as a result of twisting, pivoting, decelerating or a sudden impact and often require surgical repair if severe or non-responsive to more conservative care.
It is important to remember, as with any sport, that prevention is better than cure! Stretching properly before and after any sport is vital to reduce injuries, especially in the frequently affected muscle groups such as the groin and hamstrings.
Often, subtle differences in the way we move can place more stress on the joints of our body. The best way to minimise the chances of an injury taking place is to ensure your body is working optimally. A chiropractor will be able to assess how your joints are working, and identify any areas that could potentially lead to an injury. They will then help to address the problem and to strengthen the area, working with you to ensure your body is functioning as required.