Rugby is fast-paced and high-contact – and that’s how (and why) millions of South Africans love the sport. But in that environment, injuries can happen in an instant.
That’s why it’s so important that players, coaches, and parents know how to respond if something goes wrong on the field.
A 2017 study by Newcastle University in the UK cited rugby as having “the highest rate of concussion out of any youth sport”. An earlier landmark South African study, published in the South African Medical Journal in 2006, found that “The tackle has been confirmed as the most dangerous phase of play by far.”
The same South African study found that ligament sprains and musculotendinous strains or tears (the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tissue connecting muscle to bone) accounted for about half of all rugby-related injuries. It’s worth noting that subsequent studies have found that concussion has typically been underdiagnosed or overlooked among rugby players.
The point, though, is that when you step onto the rugby field you run the risk of all sorts of injuries. “The possibilities are vast,” says Dr Konrad von Hagen, a Sports Doctor and team doctor to the 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks. “These could range from a catastrophic neck injury to a minor bump or bruise. As rugby doctors we tend to see a lot of shoulder injuries, ankle sprains, knees - including the more severe ACL tears – and things like that.”
First aid tips from World Rugby
“The outcome of many injuries can often be improved by very simple first aid skills from bystanders until emergency help arrives,” says World Rugby, the sport’s governing body. “Such bystanders may be parents, club officials, coaches, referees, or even other players.”
To help keep players safe, World Rugby has developed a set of key messages, focused on training to prevent injuries, identifying and treating concussion, preventing infection (particularly when there’s blood involved), taking care of the ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation), and protecting players from serious neck injury.
That last one merits special attention. As the World Rugby instruction says, “If they are on the deck, think about the neck.” If a player is unconscious, assume they have a neck injury (until proven otherwise), and don’t shake them, roll them or sit them up.
What not to do
As a fellow player or coach, the golden rule for administering first aid to an injured player is the old medical adage of “Do no further harm”. “Often when faced with an injury, the issue is what not to do rather than what to do,” World Rugby’s first aid instruction advises. “Simple measures such as protecting the head and neck, ensuring an open airway, or supporting an injured limb are often all that is needed in the immediate stages of injury management.”
“For your regular bumps and bruises, it all comes down to careful management,” says Dr Von Hagen. In other words, don’t think you can “walk off” an injury. “If you’re still hobbling on the Monday or Tuesday after game day, or your knee’s still swollen or you can’t use your shoulder properly, rather play it safe and get it checked out by a doctor.”