The 3 Most Common Orthopedic Rugby Injuries

An education with the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute

While injuries are common across all sports, rugby athletes may be at greater risk for suffering or developing a variety of orthopedic injuries due to the level of intensity and endurance required for rugby. “While one may assume that injuries are most prevalent among the elite level athletes, the growing interest at youth and amateur levels is leading to an increase of injury occurrences across players at all levels of play” notes Dr. Eric Chehab, an Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon with Illinois Bone & Joint Institute and former collegiate All-American Rugby athlete.

There are two common classifications that emerge when investigating how these injuries occur: overuse injuries and single traumatic injuries. Unlike overuse injuries, single incident injuries can be hard to avoid as they occur suddenly and without warning. While there is no way to avoid the risk of injury entirely, developing an understanding of the most common injuries and what causes them may be helpful in taking proactive steps to protect athletes.

Knee Ligament Injuries

Your knee is made up of three bones (the tibia, patella, and femur) and four ligaments (two cruciate ligaments and two collateral ligaments). Ligaments are responsible for keeping the bones of the knee stabilized and protected when performing any type of movement. Injures to these ligaments most commonly occur when the knee is moved in an unnatural way (for example, backwards or side to side). Sometimes a ligamentous injury occurs from a force being applied to the knee via a tackle or may occur when quickly changing direction of movement. The keys to protecting your knee ligaments include strengthening of surrounding muscles (including the quadriceps, hamstring, and glutes), as well as incorporating various cutting and agility drills into your training regimen.

Shoulder Dislocations

Shoulder dislocations are one of the most common upper extremity injuries sustained by rugby players due to the direct stress placed on the shoulder joint during try scores and tackles. A dislocation occurs when the ball of the upper arm bone (the humerus) is dislocated from the socket bone of the shoulder blade (the scapula). Dislocations have varying degrees of severity including a partial or full dislocation and are classified by whether the bone is forced forwards or backwards. Maintaining strength and flexibility of the shoulder’s rotator cuff muscles can help prevent weaknesses and imbalances that may predispose the shoulder to injury.

Ankle Sprains

Similar to the knee and shoulder, the ankle joint is supported by ligaments on both the inside and outside of the ankle. Ankle sprains occur when stress is placed on these ligaments from a twisting motion and the fibers of the ligament tear. Sprains are classified by the severity of the ligament tear and can be graded from mild to severe. Since considerable stress is placed on the ankle during a match, ankle sprains can occur in as many as 1 in 7 rugby players. To prevent ankle sprains, it is important to maintain ankle strength and flexibility as part of your training program. Additionally, if an athlete is aware of an increased risk of ankle sprains personally, preventive methods such as taping can be used.

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