INJURIES IN RUGBY – THE LATEST TRENDS
Winter is coming and with it comes the arrival of the November Series Rugby Internationals but given the mounting injury concerns for some of the “Home Nations” it promises to be a testing few weeks against some of the southern hemispheres finest. With this latest spate of injuries in the professional game we must ask ourselves the question; are these injuries just bad luck or have they become an inherent part of playing Rugby?
Unprecedented numbers of players, across every Rugby playing nation, are retiring at a younger age due to injury in recent years. Over the last number of seasons we have seen several high profile retirees through injury including:
- Gareth Thomas (Wales & The Lions)
- Craig Clarke (Connacht)
- Stephen Ferris (Ireland & The Lions)
- Deon Carstens (The Stormers & South Africa)
- Andrew Sheridan (England & The Lions)
- Andy Titterrell (England)
- David Wallace (Ireland & The Lions)
According to the Irish Rugby Union Players Association, 30% of players forced out of the game, and claiming insurance from the injuries that curtailed their career, are under the age of 30.
One of the reasons often cited for the increase in injury rates among Rugby players is the increased size and speed of players in the modern game. I mean it stands to reason that larger forces travelling at higher speeds and going to create bigger impacts. An investigation into the increasing size of Rugby players found that the average weight of the England team in 1994 — a year before the advent of professionalism — was 14st 5lb (92.3kg) compared to an average weight of 16st 6lb (105.1kg) in the current English team (See Figure 2).
Teams can hardly be blamed however for wanting to make their players bigger and faster when there are strong links to the size of modern Rugby teams and success rates. A recent study by Dickson, E. (2012) showed that Rugby teams with the tallest backs, heaviest forwards, and greatest amount of collective experience are likely to be the most successful at World Cup level. Not only is there strong links to increased player size and on field success in Rugby but there are also studies suggesting that smaller, slower players are at an increased risk of injury (Gabbett & Domrow, 2005). This finding of greater injury risk in slower, lighter players may reflect their reduced ability to generate and tolerate high-impact forces when compared to bigger, faster players. As a result many strength and conditioning coaches would argue that by not increasing their player size and speed they are putting their athletes at an elevated risk of injury, as well as decreasing the teams chance of success.
This view that the increase in size, fitness and speed of players is not purely to blame for the steady rise of injury rates over the last decade or so, is shared by other parties involved in Rugby who argue that there are many other factors which influence injury occurrence and statistics. One of the reasons cited is that its difficult to even make comparisons from previous years data as there is a lack of any substantial previous injury research due in part to Rugby only becoming a professional game in 1995. It may be a case that we are now seeing an increase in injury rates because the staff involved in the game are professionals and more diligent and accountable for assessing players and recording their injuries. There is also an increased understanding about some injuries, such as concussion, which were previously misunderstood and potentially misdiagnosed. Now that concussions have become such a focal point in Rugby, we must ask the question, are we now seeing more concussions because medical staff are more sensitive to the subject and understand more about the symptoms? So rather than there being a twofold increase in the last 6 years in concussion, is there simply better reporting of the injury due to increased awareness around the topic?
Another potential factor cited for the increasing incidence of injury in Rugby is the increase in the volume of games and training performed by todays players. With the expansion of competitions e.g. Super 12 into Super 15, players are getting increasing exposure to high intensity matches in both international and club competitions. Prior to last years Six Nations when England were missing eight frontline players, England head coach Stuart Lancaster said ‘We need to keep reassessing the volume of rugby the top players play. Clubs are very good in managing the rotation of players but eight injured players is more than I’ve ever known’.
What’s the Solution?
So if the problems causing injury are as multifaceted as they appear then the solution to reduce these injuries must therefore also be multifaceted. With the increasing availability of athlete management software, this allows for the proper collection of injury, workload and other pertinent athlete data that can help to reverse the trend of increasing injury rates. However not all athlete management software is created equal and support staff are often overwhelmed with the amount of data presented to them which is not always of relevance to the task at hand. Our software system operates on the premise of ‘need to know’ not simply ‘nice to know’ allowing technology to enhance the function of professionals working with sports teams rather than overwhelm and frustrate them. Our Profiler system monitors variables across several risk factors that contribute to injury in any sport including ankle, shoulder, hip, knee and hamstring functions as well as well-being markers such as stress, fatigue and hydration. In addition to tracking these variables our system allows you to track custom variables that are tailored towards the specific needs of your sport or the specific injury profile of your team. Our system also allows for the long-term and short-term tracking of injury parameters, training information, player availability etc. and provides combined team (as well as individual player) analyses over seasons.
Finally, I believe, whatever measures are taken within your team or club to reduce the risk of of injury, as professionals we have a duty of care to our players to implement the best possible solution and do our utmost to help reduce the number of injuries sustained by players and promote player safety.
- The Journal, Patrick Mc Carry (2013) 30% of Irish rugby players retiring from injury are under 30 [online], available: http://www.thescore.ie/irish-rugby-early-retirements-1053551-Aug2013/ [accessed 15 Oct 2014].
- The Dailymail, Sam Peters (2014) Rugby’s obsession with size and power is forcing the game to the brink of crisis [online], available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/article-2571061/Rugbys-obsession-size-power-forcing-game-brink-crisis-concussion-campaign.html [accessed 16 Oct 2014].
- Pollock, A. M. (2014) Tackling Rugby: What Every Parent Should Know. London: Verso.
- BBC Sport, Chris Jones (2014) English rugby reveals new concussion injuries programme [online], available http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/rugby-union/29638234 [accessed 16 Oct 2014].
- CNN, Matt Knight (2014) Rise of the supersize rugby player [online], available: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/05/27/sport/rugby-sporting-physique-compared/ [accessed 16 Oct 2014].
- Dickson, E. (2012) Weight, height, and experience key to Rugby World Cup success. British Medical Journal
- Gabbett, T. J. and Domrow, N. (2005) Risk Factors for Injury in Subelite Rugby League Players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine