How to prevent rugby injuries

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People often think that rugby – whether it’s union, league or sevens – is dangerous. Physiotherapist Nell Mead gives tips to help prevent common rugby injuries. She served in the Army for 14 years, including seven seasons working with forces rugby teams. She now runs Victory Health and Performance in London.

‘There have been some horrific and well-publicised cases, but in reality the risk of catastrophic injury is lower than when you cross the road or travel in a car,’ says Mead. Stats show the most common injuries in training are far less serious – and there are simple steps you can take to reduce the risk.

Muscle strain

‘The hamstrings and the gastrocnemius muscles of the calves both cover two joints, making them doubly vulnerable to strains and tears in contact and non-contact plays.’

Prevent it

‘Glute bridges and eccentric calf raises will keep your muscles flexible and strong. For the bridges, contract your glutes as you raise and lower for three sets of 20 reps. For the calf raises, stand on a step on the balls of both feet. Push up, then take one foot away and slowly lower your other heel as far as you can. Repeat on the other foot, building to three sets of 15 reps on each leg.’

Shoulder damage

‘Most people who’ve played rugby consistently will have suffered some form of shoulder trauma, from inflamed ligaments to dislocations, especially when tackling opponents.’

Prevent it

‘I use Torq-Kings – similar to abs wheels for each hand, but dumbbells also work – for shoulder strength and control. Start in a press-up position on your knees and, keeping your arms completely straight, roll each hand out at a 45° angle as far as you can under control, then reverse. Aim for three sets of ten reps, working to take your knees off the floor and to change the angle to 90°.’

Injury proof your shoulder

Lumbar spine injury

‘Tackles, hard landings and scrums can all compress the spine’s discs temporarily. Unless you stretch and decompress your spine afterwards, the damage can build up and leave you with long-term disc problems and pain.’

Prevent it

‘You can decompress your spine and increase the flow of fluid around the discs by using a yoga brick. Alternate lying on your back and rocking your knees towards your chest for 30 seconds, with placing the yoga brick under your pelvis and draping yourself over it for 30 seconds, relaxing as much as possible. Do this three times before bed.’

Prevent lumbar spine injuries

Ankle sprain

‘Ligaments contain proprioceptors – nerve cells that tell your brain where each part of your body is – and the more acutely tuned these proprioceptors are, the faster you’ll react to being off-balance and reduce the risk of sprains.’

Prevent it

‘Improve your proprioception with a wobble cushion – a circular cushion filled with air. Aim to stand on it for 60 seconds with your eyes open. Next, go for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. When that becomes easy, do it on one leg.’

Improve ankle mobility

One-kit Fix

66Fit Massage Ball

£6 66fit.co.uk

‘Portable and cheap, the massage ball is the unsung hero of the recovery world,’ says Mead. ‘Most injuries occur when muscles are tight rather than weak. Put the ball on the floor underneath you, let it dig into any tender and tight muscle, put as much weight on it as you can manage, then relax and let it sink into the tight muscle until you feel it relax.’