Common rugby injuries and how to prevent them

Andy Curtis discusses how to help rugby players avoid injury in an increasingly physical game

rugby injury prevention
Prehab can help limit your chances of a rugby injury Photo:

The average size of rugby players in professional game continues to grow and this can only lead to greater collisions, which heightens the risk of injury.

Sadly at any level injuries are inevitable, however, if you work hard on your fitness, improve your technique in contact and consult your physiotherapist before any niggles develop, you’ll perform better on the pitch and reduce your chances of sustaining injuries.

Lower back pain, knee ligament and cartilage issues, rotator cuff and ankle ligament tears are some of the most prevalent injuries reported in clinic. In matches and training, unexpected and heavy contact, or quick changes in direction can cause these, but if you work hard on your prehab you can help limit your chances of injury.

It’s frustrating to pick up injuries, however, if you think positively and use your time away from the field to come back fitter and stronger, and you can even be in better condition than your opposite number who hasn’t had time to recover properly and work on his/her prehab during the week. It’s worth spending some time with your physiotherapist and completing a ‘mini pre-season’.

Here are four common rugby injuries and some exercises to help prevent them.

1) Lower back pain

This can be common in both forwards and backs, but normally for different reasons. Obviously both playing positions are open to contact related contusions and more severe injury, but in general the forwards will have large axial loads enforced on their spinal discs and joints through scrummaging, rucking and mauling. Backs on the other hand are more likely to ‘jar’ their lower back through high speed changes of direction and half breaks at pace. In order to minimise the effects of these position specific risks, it is essential to have great core strength, protecting the spine with increased stabilisation which can help you if you jump in the line out and in the jackal.



Supine leg pistons

leg pistons

2) Knee ligament injury

Knee injuries generally relate to a twisting injury, which is likely to damage the cartilage, or forced motion either sideways of backwards during contact, which is likely to damage the collateral or cruciate ligaments respectively. In truth, it is impossible to prevent injuries that occur through heavy contact, or the joint having force put through it while in an awkward position, but you improve the condition of the muscle around your knee to deal with these adverse loads. Strengthening your quads and hamstrings is essential to protect your knees, but this should be done with functional exercise as well as static lifts, to ensure the smaller stabilising muscles around the back of the knee are well conditioned. Olympic lifts including Squats, Deadlifts, and Power Cleans can help you gain the dynamic leg strength required in rugby, but it is vital not to neglect the more precise exercises detailed below for both prehab and rehab from knee injury.

Hamstring roll outs

hamstring roll outs

Single leg deadlift

leg deadlift

Single leg squat

single leg squat

3) Shoulder injury – Rotator cuff

Shoulder injury is very prevalent in rugby for the obvious reason that is a main point of contact in attack, defence, set piece and broken play. Shoulder injuries can be fractures or dislocations, labral tears (the cup of cartilage that deepens the ball and socket joint) and most commonly, rotator cuff damage.
The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles that hold the ball into the socket, starting at the rear of the shoulder and passing through under the collar bone attaching to the top of the arm. These can develop impingement syndromes with repetitive actions, and in rugby, traumatic tears due to impact. These tears can be managed conservatively by a physiotherapist; however, in some instances they do need surgical intervention. It is essential for rugby players to have well conditioned rotator cuff muscles to help prevent impact injury, and to give the foundations for completion of the larger upper limb lifts, preventing overtraining and over reaching. Rotator cuff exercises should be completed for both shoulder prehab and rehab.

Rotator band exercises

rotator cuff excercises

Swiss Ball roll outs

swiss ball roll outs

4) Ankle ligament injuries

Ankle function is paramount for backs to perform at full pace, and for forwards to be able to adopt the correct body positions at set piece and the collision zone in broken play. The lateral collateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle are the most commonly damaged structures due to inversion injury from ‘going over on your ankle’ be it while sprinting / jumping, or during a collision. The natural recovery of these ligaments can sometimes see them healing by sticking to the bone on the side of the ankle where they shouldn’t. This will reduce the amount ankle movement achievable, and therefore reduce performance and increase the risk of further injury. This healing abnormality can be controlled by a clinician throughout the phases of healing. The rehab exercises you would do to recover from this collateral ligament injury are also used to train the neural pathways and muscles required to minimise the risk of inversion injury in the first place.

Theraband clock face

theraband clock face

Bosu Ball

bosu ball

Heel raises

heel raises

Grid hopscotch

grid hopscotch offers a range of annual subscription packages from as little as 60p a day to make physiotherapy, massage and physical conditioning more accessible, affordable and effective. Visit


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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard

BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge

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This article was last updated on November 11, 2018.
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