According to Physioworks, as many as 1 in 4 rugby league players become injured during one season. Due to the rough contact element of the game, it comes with no surprise and for players, it’s all part of the job. The most common injuries are musculotendinous, which can range from minor sprains to breaks and fractures, but what’s the best way to get back on the pitch? Read on as we explore five of the most common rugby injuries and the roads to recovery.
Muscular strains and tears
Over 40% of injuries on a rugby pitch are muscular strains or bruising. A strain can vary — it can cause damage to a muscle and/or its attaching tendons, or it can cause damage to blood vessels which leads to local bleeding as a result of irritation of the nerve endings. Depending on the severity of the injury, symptoms can range from swelling or weakness of the muscle to an inability to use the muscle at all.
Muscle tears are graded, with a grade 2 tear being felt straight away and any pressure on the muscle resulting in pain. In comparison, a grade 3 tear involves the rupture of a muscle and this causes agonising pain and significant bruising.
In most cases, people fully recover from muscle strains and it shouldn’t affect a player’s future in the game. The most common muscular strain in rugby is a hamstring injury due to sudden sprinting. Here are some steps you can take to reduce recovery time.
As soon as the injury occurs, apply an ice pack and keep the muscle stretched. Avoid applying heat to the wound, as this can worsen any swelling and pain. After this, rest the muscle and follow the PRICE procedure (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation). Listen to your body and stay rested until the pain has significantly improved.
Reduce muscle pain with anti-inflammatory drugs and gels, so that you can use the muscle if needed.
Dislocations and fractures
The increased physical demands of rugby mean that players are now bigger and stronger than they were a decade ago. As these players collide into each other, dislocations and fractures aren’t uncommon. The fracture most common in rugby is to the clavicle; this is often down to a fall on the shoulder or going down over the line with an outstretched arm and both can cause significant force onto the collarbone.
Who can remember Beau Robinson’s gruesome elbow dislocation? The Queensland Reds’ flanker suffered from the injury in May 2011 during a game against the Crusaders. He returned to the game less than two months later after a speedy recovery programme.
It depends on the extent of the dislocation or fracture. But either way, rest is important.
A dislocated shoulder, for example, which is another common injury of the game, can take about 12 to 16 weeks to fully recover. The NHS advises that you don’t return to sport for between six weeks and three months. If you suffer a similar injury to Robinson, you should consider physiotherapy. This is because an elbow that’s immobile for an extended time can affect the range of motion permanently.
Ankle lateral ligament injuries, or ankle sprains, are the cause of 1 in 7 rugby injuries. This occurs when the ankle ligaments are over stretched and the capsule that surrounds the joint becomes damaged.
This can cause tissue bleeding, which results in a swollen ankle. It’s easily done by rolling over the ankle in the wrong way and is hard to prevent, which is why it’s so common. You can tape and brace ankles to try and avoid this it, as this technique works to reinforce the joint. However, it’s not guaranteed protection.
You don’t always need an official diagnosis for a sprained ankle, especially if symptoms are mild. But if you visit a doctor for your injury, they’ll probably grade your sprained ankle from one to three:
- Grade 1: A mild strain that occurs from overstretching. You’re able to put weight on your foot.
- Grade 2: A moderate strain which is a result of overstretching and partially tearing a ligament.
- Grade 3: A severe sprain which happens when you completely tear a ligament. It’s very painful to put weight on your foot.
It can take months to fully recover from a sprained ankle and a mixture of medicines, exercises and self-care methods are required. In the first few days after the injury occurs, follow the PRICE procedure again to speed up recovery.
As you can imagine, a head injury is one of the more serious injuries that can occur in a rugby game. Of the head injuries that do happen, approximately just below 50% are concussions. Other head injuries include lacerations, nasal fractures and superficial injuries.
We’ll never forget Lachine Munro’s split lip, which may have been the most extreme laceration that many fans will have seen and caused him to be out of the game for two weeks.
It’s important to take head injuries, especially concussions, very seriously. It is believed that 80-90% of concussion symptoms ease in around 7-10 days, but each case is different. Follow the RTP (return to play) guidelines for more information.
Superficial injuries take less time to heal and after stitches have healed, some players are ready to get back onto the pitch. Again, injuries like this are hard to avoid, but you can wear protective headgear to help protect against concussion and brain injuries.
As with many sports, players tend to use the same muscles repeatedly, which can lead to overuse injuries. Due to the high level of running that’s involved in the game, iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome is a condition that rugby players are prone to. This is where the ITB ligament, a thickened band of tissue that runs down the length of the thigh, becomes tight or inflamed and it can cause a lot of pain.
Problems with this area usually occur towards the end of the season when players have been overworking the ligament. The best way to treat the syndrome is by resting and avoiding any activity that involves the band. Massages, ice packs, anti-inflammatory medicines and ultrasound can also help.