Injuries among rugby union players almost doubled since sport turned professional

October 02, 2000

Impact of professionalism on injuries in rugby union 2000; 34:348-51

Injuries among rugby union players have almost doubled since the sport turned professional, finds a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The protective equipment worn by players is most likely to have contributed to this increase, suggest the authors.

Injuries sustained during competitive matches, and the subsequent time lost from training and work, were assessed among 803 rugby union players-84 per cent of all eligible players in the Scottish Borders region-during the 1997/8 season. The study was a repeat of that carried out in the 1993/4 season when rugby union was an entirely amateur sport. Rugby union turned pro in 1995 after the second World Cup in South Africa.

The results showed that the proportion of players who were injured almost doubled from 27 per cent to 47 per cent in 1997/8 despite a 7 per cent fall in the numbers of players and fewer hours of competitive matches played. This works out at one episode of injury every two matches compared with one every 3.4 matches in 1993/4. Teenage players seemed to be particularly vulnerable.

Professional players sustained a higher rate of injuries, and a higher rate of recurrent injuries, with one episode of injury for every hour of competive play, equivalent to 1.4 injuries a match. Muscular, ligament, knee, hip and thigh injuries accounted for almost half of all injuries. Tackling resulted in half of all reported injuries, with more professional than amateur players affected. Changes in rugby union laws in recent years may have increased the strength and force with which tackles are made, say the authors. Each professional player lost more than two days of training/play for every hour of competitive play he took part in.

"The penalties for accepting financial and other rewards accompanying Professionalism in rugby union apear to include a major increase in player Morbidity," say the authors. And this is despite playing fewer competitive matches than amateurs. Protective equipment, introduced after the sport turned professional, may be to blame, say the authors, adding that apart from mouthguards, there is no good scientific evidence to support its use.

Professor William Garraway, Alvie Epidemiology Associates, Aviemore,Scotland.

BMJ Specialty Journals

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