How to Treat Common Rugby Injuries

player crouching with rugby ball on field 2021 08 28 17 22 27 utc 1

A good rugby first aid course will arm you with all the necessary training to give first aid in a critical situation, but this one-to-one training is usually reserved for your appointed first aider. Familiarise yourself with the most common rugby injuries and how they are treated here.

Types of Common Rugby Injuries

In rugby, we see a combination of risks associated with other sports. There is the risk of overuse injury associated with the endurance of football, hockey, and other running sports. Rugby tackle injuries and rugby scrum injuries are not unlike the severe traumatic damage the body can receive in boxing and other combat sports.

Running, making an impact with other players, dodging, scrums, jumps, and lifts can put the player at risk of tendon and muscle strains and sprains too. The Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Report (PRISP), conducted by England Rugby (2019-20), found there to be “An incidence of 88 injuries per 1000 hours equates to about 59 injuries per club or nearly two injuries per club per match during the 2019-20 season.”

With this frequency of rugby sports injuries, it’s essential to know what to do when someone is injured and the ramifications of not following the rules of fair play.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common injuries in rugby league and most common injuries in rugby union.

Head Injuries

Of all match injuries reported in the PRISP, concussions were the most common rugby injuries, accounting for 22%. The report also found that “of the players who sustained a concussion in 2019-20, 42% returned within seven days, 48% within 28 days and 3% had not returned within 84 days”.

A concussion results from the brain being shaken inside the head due to a sudden impact on the skull. Essentially, a concussion can lead to a ‘bruise’ on the brain. Rugby brain injuries like concussions are very serious because there is a risk of brain damage.

In rugby, concussions are being taken more and more seriously. A ‘recognise and remove’ approach is being adopted to try and spot concussion symptoms earlier and take sufferers off the field. The RFU’s HEADCASE programme aims to increase understanding and provide information on concussion and other related topics, including how to prevent and manage suspected concussions.

World Rugby has developed the Head Injury Assessment Protocol (HIA) to spot and manage concussions. The HIA involves rugby head injury assessment questions and rugby head injury guidelines, and rugby head injury rules for handling a potential concussion.

A concussion must be treated immediately by a professional. Visit A&E if you suspect a player has a concussion, or call 111 if you are not sure. Call 999 if the player is:

  • Unconscious
  • Bleeding from the ears or nose
  • Is vomiting
  • Is finding it difficult to stay away
  • Is confused and behaving strangely


A concussion isn’t the only injury a player’s head is at risk of on the field. Rugby eye, face, and neck injuries often occur due to tackles and scrums.

A study published by the British Journal of Medicine on the management of facial injuries in Rugby Union looked into clubs’ procedures for dealing with facial injuries because England Rugby provides ample guidance for dealing with concussions but not facial injuries.

The results of the study were to encourage using disposable gloves (two in the study did not) in order to maintain a clean environment and prevent infection of open wounds. The researchers also encouraged using sterile sutures, which made it easier and more comfortable to apply with a local anaesthetic.

The researchers also advised thorough irrigation of facial wounds with a sterile solution and covering them with a suitable dressing. A self-adhesive dressing is a convenient option.

Rugby ear injuries, specifically acute auricular haematoma, otherwise known as cauliflower ear, is another prevalent rugby injury. Find out how it is prevented and treated in our blog post Treatment and Prevention of Cauliflower Ear.


Overuse Injuries

With a great deal of running, dodging, diving, and jumping, rugby is not without the risk of overuse injury. Common overuse injuries include:

  • Tendinitis: a common rugby knee injury or ankle injury in rugby.
  • Medial tibial stress syndrome: otherwise known as shin splints
  • Bursitis: an inflammation of the fluid-filled sack that cushions a joint, commonly in the shoulders, knees, hips, and elbows.
  • Strains and sprains: typical rugby leg injuries due to running, dodging and tackling. Strain is also a rugby hamstring injury frequently seen due to overuse.

Rugby players frequently report knee injuries. An analysis of knee injuries in Rugby League found that the most common rugby knee injuries were medial collateral ligament and chondral/meniscal injury, with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries responsible for the most downtime from play.

Where overuse injuries are involved, rugby knee injury treatment is similar to that of other joints, tendons, and muscles. While they can range from minor (muscle strain) to severe (ACL tear), overuse injuries require rest while your body heals and gentle, prescribed exercises to help your joints and muscles rebuild strengths and range of motion.

Immediately following an overuse injury such as a sprain or strain, you may want to ice the injury to bring down swelling and wrap it with sports tape or wrap to compress the area and immobilise the joint to protect it.

Find out how to treat some of the most common overuse injuries in our blog. We go through the steps and equipment you need to get them on the road to healing fast.

Paramedic on pitch

Trauma Injuries

Rugby is a contact sport, and like other contact sports such as boxing, it puts participants at a heightened risk of trauma injury. In rugby, serious injuries are quite often the result of a tackle. 52% of all injuries occurred as a result of tackling or being tackled, according to the PRISP report.

Colliding with other players at force, falling, diving, and rolling can result in traumatic injuries that require emergency care, long-term treatment, and even hospitalisation. Some typical trauma injuries in rugby include:

  • Dislocations: common rugby shoulder injuries due to falling on the should at an awkward angle, but also a typical type of rugby finger injury.
  • Fractured and broken bones, including facial fractures, evidence the importance of wearing the proper headgear.
  • Injuries to the back and spine: rugby back injury and rugby spinal injury, particularly brachial plexus injury, which, in most serious cases, can result in paralysis.
  • Severe sprains and strains, of which ACL tear is an example, are classified as traumatic injuries. Sprains and strains are graded from one to three to help identify how severe they are and what treatment is needed. Take a look at our blog post on how to spot and treat an ACL tear for an example of the grading scale.
  • Cauliflower ear as a result of a sudden forceful impact. Find out how cauliflower ear is treated and prevented in our blog.

The appointed first aider will be trained in first aid to a certain extent, but almost all severe trauma injuries will require the attention of a professional. Immediate care should make the casualty comfortable and keep them safe until paramedics arrive. Consider whether you need to do the following:

  • Call 999 as soon as you can if a player is severely injured.
  • Report details about the accident in the accident report book as long as the casualty is being cared for.
  • Is the casualty in shock? Keep them warm with a foil blanket and fabric blanket, and use an umbrella to shelter them if it is raining.
  • Keep the casualty still and do not move them from the injury site. Trying to move someone with a broken bone can make the injury worse.

Rugby First Aid Kits

Arm your designated first aid provider with all the equipment and training they need to deliver the very best first aid. We cover rugby first aid kits and training requirements as advised by rugby national governing bodies in our blog.

We provide a rugby first aid kit professionally designed with the help of sports teams, leagues, sports physiotherapists, and healthcare professionals.

Our Sterosport Sports First Aid Kit is made to meet stringent requirements of national governing bodies, helping you provide the best protection to your club while also staying compliant with safety regulations.

We also offer a Sterosport Sports Medical Kit for professional sports physiotherapists with a wider range of items designed to support aftercare treatment.

Our recommendation for first aiders tending to junior rugby teams is the specially designed Sterosport Junior Sports Team First Aid Kit, designed with minors in mind.

As a high-contact sport, it’s vital rugby is well-covered with all the medical supplies needed to treat injuries immediately. That’s why Rugby Football League and England Rugby release their mandatory medical equipment list requiring all elite teams to have certain items. Find out what those items are in our article Rugby Union and Rugby League Mandatory Medical Equipment: 2023 Update and What to Buy.

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