The essence of great rugby is the handling and passing of the ball, movement and anticipation, skills possessed by the best players in the world. There is of course another side to the game – physical contact in the form of tackles that can make the eyes water just from witnessing the ferocity of the impact!

Rugby is a sport that puts major physical demands on the player, resulting in a high incidence of injuries. Injuries are divided into those caused by repetitive overuse of the body (intrinsic injuries), which are most prevalent in players with musculoskeletal imbalances and inflexibility of muscles and joints, and those resulting from external forces applied directly to the body, such as forceful contact or collision with other players or the pitch (extrinsic injuries).

Osteopathy offers an ideal combination of preventive biomechanical analysis and therapy. Through specific diagnosis and treatment, it can improve the rehabilitation of typical rugby injuries and help prevent minor damage from turning into severe injury. The main goal is to restore the ability to function on the field of play. By improving the musculoskeletal structure of the body, osteopathy enhances performance and keeps the body functioning at an optimal level.

PREVENTING INTRINSIC INJURIES

Osteopathic evaluation before playing rugby can enable potential problems to be identified before they arise, reducing the possibility of an intrinsic injury. Some examples of ways injuries can be prevented are as follows. A torn hamstring or calf muscle can be sustained while sprinting for the try line. Increased emphasis on fitness training and faster match tempo has led to a rise in the number of muscle and tendon injuries. Reduced stride length when sprinting along the wing, particularly at the end of the match, may be related to hamstring shortness due to sitting at a desk or in a vehicle during the player’s working day. Playing on a muddy pitch can add to fatigue and put undue strain on the hamstring muscles when movement is accelerated.

Injury may be avoided with an appropriate stretching regimen. There is usually an opportunity to do some stretches during a penalty kick. Back and neck pain, which is more prevalent in forwards than in backs due to the increased load on the spine.

Sit with the lumbar spine in extension instead of slumping in the changing room after a hard game. This will help avoid lower back pain and disc problems. Adhering to good dynamic posture at all times, but particularly during training, is a good preventive measure.

EXTRINSIC INJURIES

An extrinsic sports injury occurs when an external force is applied directly to the body, for example through forceful contact or collision with other players or the pitch.

Some Examples Are As Follows:

The front thigh muscles (quadriceps) are particularly liable to direct trauma when hit by an opposing rugby player’s shoulder during a heavy tackle. Ligament injuries to knee, ankle, shoulder and neck may occur with a sudden change of direction as in sidestepping or when tackled by multiple players. Tackling or being tackled is the cause of half of all injuries during play. The more serious injuries that can be sustained by players on the receiving end include fractures of the lower limb, knee cartilage tears and ligament damage, whereas shoulder dislocations, strains and sprains may affect players who are doing the tackling. Players in the position of second row forward often complain of lateral ligament sprains, which are usually due to landing badly. Without complete rest and adequate rehabilitation, chronic strain will weaken the ankle. Inversion ankle sprains are another common injury, especially in forwards and backs.

The foot is turned inwards to the ankle due to slipping in the mud, an unbalanced step when running, side-stepping or jinking, in the tackle, or when landing from the lineout or any other jump. The player is in acute pain, and unable to run or continue to play. The site of damage swells, which can sometimes be controlled by a high-cut boot.

Concussions account for one in five rugby injuries. Repeated concussions can have extremely serious consequences, and preventing a recurrent concussion begins with managing the first one properly. Any loss of consciousness, even for just a second, is classified as concussion.

HOW CAN WE PREVENT RUGBY-RELATED INJURIES?

If you are a dedicated rugby player there’s every chance that you will have experienced a frustrating lay-off due to one or more common injuries. An osteopath will suggest why these injuries are occurring and then treat the real cause of the problem. Many injuries are preventable if the correct stretching and muscle balancing exercises are done.

Coaches and athletic trainers should ensure that all players are well conditioned and adequately prepared for the intense physical challenge of matches. Prevention programmes targeting safe tackling techniques have great potential for decreasing rugby injuries. Strategies include providing coaches with materials to help them run proper tackling drills, showing players videos demonstrating proper tackling techniques, and encouraging referees to penalise unsafe tackling.

RUGBY INJURIES IN CHILDREN

Some experts estimate that half of children’s injuries that occur during organised sports activities are preventable.1,2 Knowing something about the causes, prevention and treatment of sports injuries can help you make playing rugby a positive experience for your child!

Children mature at different rates, so there can be a substantial difference in height and weight between children of the same age. When children of the same age but widely varying sizes play sports together, there may be an increased risk of injury.

Because they are still growing and developing, children are generally less co-ordinated and have slower reaction times than adults.

Teenagers are particularly susceptible to sports injuries for a variety of reasons. During puberty, children experience a growth spurt during which bones grow more quickly than muscles and tendons, making muscles and tendons short, tight and prone to injury. In addition, teens may become less co-ordinated as they adjust to their physical changes, which can increase the risk of injury.

Experts in New Zealand suggest that contact rugby should be avoided until 12 – 13 years of age. Touch or tag rugby is an excellent alternative. It’s a safe and exhilarating sport for children to participate in, and it’s not only enjoyable in its own right but serves as grounding in the arts of either of rugby’s two codes, league and union. I personally think that touch/tag rugby should be mandatory in schools in South Africa!

References Minigh JL. Sports Medicine. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007.