New rugby warm-up regime can halve number of injuries
A series of exercises performed before rugby matches can dramatically reduce injury, according to a benchmark study that the game’s coaches hope will rebut the charge that they do not take the issue of concussion seriously.
The programme, known as Activate, is the result of a project by health researchers at the University of Bath and England Rugby. The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggest that the exercises can significantly reduce concussion and lower limb injuries.
Researchers followed the progress of 81 men’s community rugby club teams and nearly 2,000 players over the course of a season, during which players performed the programme. Incidence of concussion was reduced by up to 60%, with lower-limb injuries down by as much as 40%. The closer the programme was observed by players, the greater the effect. The best results occurred when teams practised the warm-up at least twice a week.
The regime focuses on balance, strength and agility in order to better prepare players for the physical challenges they face in matches. Split into four stages, it takes roughly 20 minutes to complete. The exercises are targeted to improve functional and core strength, particularly lower-limb balance and neck strength, all of which assist a player in dealing with the physical demands of the game. “By replacing stretching exercises that players typically do before training and matches with exercises that focus on better control of movement, we have seen a dramatic reduction in injuries in this study,” said one of its authors, Dr Simon Roberts from the University of Bath’s department for health. “This new programme is markedly different from the kind of warm-up players might typically take part in during training or prematch, with a much greater focus on movement control.
“Combining the impressive results on injury reduction with the national roll-out of this programme with England Rugby, we are particularly excited by the potential for this work in making a long-term impact on the game.”
Professor Keith Stokes, who led the study, said: “The injury that has received the greatest focus in recent years has been concussion. At present we are not clear about the precise mechanisms by which the programme reduces concussion incidence, but this is a particularly interesting finding.”
Concerns about serious rugby injuries are growing and could tarnish the sport’s image. Last month Professor Allyson Pollock, from Newcastle University, suggested that physical contact should be removed from all school rugby matches, which alarmed those who run the game.
An increasing number of professional players are having to leave the sport prematurely due to serious
injury. World Rugby has introduced heavier sanctions for high tackles. But the efficacy of this policy has been questioned. A recent study of Premiership rugby in England concluded that rates of concussion have gone from 6.7 per 1,000 player hours in 2012-13 to 15.8 in 2015-16 – or one brain injury every couple of matches. Concussion now accounts for 25% of all injuries.
The concerns may also be linked to the decline in the number of adults now playing the amateur game just as the sport’s executives want more people, especially women, to play rugby. The Activate programme builds on a similar initiative earlier in the year that focused on schoolboy rugby. It is set to be a key element of England Rugby’s “Rugby Safe” programme that promotes player welfare.
Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development director, said the initiative was a chance to improve player safety and reduce injuries across the game. “Since launching the Activate programme at the beginning of September we’ve already seen hundreds of coaches sign up to access the online resources and complete the face to face training,” Grainger said. “Having this strong evidence behind the programme, we hope that coaches appreciate the importance of it and integrate the exercises into their training and pre-match routines to ensure their players are in the best position possible when taking to the field.”
Concern over rugby injuries has led to calls for the sport to be made non-contact in schools. Photograph: Cultura/REX/Shutterstock