More than half of rugby tournament players lost time from injuries

NEW YORK Fri Jul 11, 2014 12:46pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nearly 55 percent of rugby players were sidelined by injuries during a 2012 international tournament, according to a new report.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town studied 152 players from five South African teams competing in the annual four-month Super Rugby tournament. Doctors recorded 160 injuries in 83 players.

“A high proportion of players are injured during the tournament, and prevention strategies should constantly be sought and tested to reduce this injury rate,” lead author Dr. Martin Schwellnus told Reuters Health in an email.

Rugby players tackle one another like football players but wear little protective padding.

Fifteen teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia compete in the Super Rugby tournament. The contest is particularly demanding in part because it lasts more than twice as long as many other international rugby tournaments, the authors write in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

During the tournament, 38 of the South African players, or 25 percent, had multiple injuries that forced them to sit out for more than one day. The vast majority of injuries, almost 80 percent, occurred during matches, and the rest during training.

While playing in the tournament, almost 35 percent of athletes sustained injuries that prevented them from training or competing for at least eight days, the authors write.

They found no differences in injuries between players based on their positions and no differences between home games and games in other countries and time zones.

Tackling and being tackled were the most common mechanisms of injury. Most of the injuries were to muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments. Ten of the injuries caused brain or central nervous system damage, though the study does not specifically report concussions.

After every three tournament games, at least one player on a team was unfit to play for one to four weeks, the authors write. After every six games, at least one player was too injured to play for at least four weeks.

The general rate of injuries came as no surprise to Dr. Anthony Luke, who studies injury prevention at the University of California, San Francisco and is a sports medicine physician for the semi-professional San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club.

But Luke, who was not involved in the current study, told Reuters Health that the length of time athletes were unable to play as a result of injuries struck him as especially punishing. Of the injuries, 42 percent put players out of commission for more than a week.

“These are more severe injuries,” Luke said. “These are very strong athletes. For them to be out for a week, I would say they’re fairly significant injuries.”

Still, when two 200-pound men are running full speed into one another, Luke said he expects serious injuries.

“The nature of the sport is quite rough, and sometimes you’re surprised there aren’t more injuries,” he said.

Dr. Zackary Vaughn is the physician for Stanford University’s men’s and women’s rugby teams in California. He told Reuters Health he has come to expect to see seriously injured rugby players.

“Anecdotally, I see far more injuries in my rugby players that require surgical treatment than in the other sports teams I’ve been taking care of,” he said. “Certainly, by the numbers, the significant injuries are higher in rugby.”

Vaughn is also a physician for the San Francisco 49ers football team, the Golden State Warriors basketball team and the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team. He was not involved in the current study.

The rugby players in the study may have experienced more head injuries in the form of concussions than reported, Vaughn said, because rugby players traditionally tend to underreport head injuries.

“I imagine that every year we’ll see a higher incidence of concussions because people are bringing the issue of concussions to light more commonly,” he said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1xsdogc British Journal of Sports Medicine, online June 30, 2014.

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