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Sports Medicine Feature

Source: Wikimedia Commons and Gerard Barrau

Rugby: Match Exposure Linked to Injury Risk

Tracey Romero • Mon, October 30th, 2017

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In a recent study, “How Much Rugby Is Too Much? A Seven-Season Prospective Cohort Study of Match Exposure and Injury Risk in Professional Rugby Union Players,” published in the November, 2017 issue of Sports Medicine, Sean Williams, Ph.D., a lecturer with the University of Bath in Bath, United Kingdom and colleagues found that a player’s accumulated (12-month) and recent (1-month) match exposure substantially influences their current injury risk.

The researchers conducted a seven-season (2006/7-2012/13) prospective cohort study of time-loss injuries in 1,253 English premiership professional players. Both players’ 12-month match exposure (number of matches a player was involved in for 20 minutes or more) and 1-month match exposure (a number of full-game equivalent matches in preceding 30 days) were evaluated as risk factors for injury.

According to the data, the 12-month match exposure was associated with injury risk in a non-linear fashion. In addition, players who played fewer than approximately 15 or more than approximately 35 matches over the previous 12-month period were at greater risk for injury.

The researchers wrote, “Careful attention should be paid to planning the workloads and monitoring the responses of players involved in: (1) a high (≥≈35) number of matches in the previous year, (2) a low (<≈15) number of matches in the previous year, and (3) a low-moderate number of matches in previous year but who have played intensively in the recent past.”

Williams told OTW in an interview, “The results were broadly in line with what we expected; that those players involved in a very high (>≈35) or low (<≈15) number of matches in the previous 12 months were more susceptible to injury. It may be that those at the upper end were at a higher risk due to fatigue and the cumulative effects of match-play, whilst those at the lower end were perhaps under-prepared for the demands of competitive rugby. However, this requires further investigation.”

He added, “The most common injury we see in professional rugby union matches is concussion. The incidence of concussion has increased dramatically over the last five years, whilst all other contact injuries have remained stable. We think the rise is because we are much better at recognizing it, and because there is much greater awareness and knowledge about this injury across the game.

“The upper threshold for match exposure is likely to vary from position-to-position. Broadly speaking, our data suggests that participating in more than around 32-35 matches in a 12-month period is likely to increase a player’s susceptibility to injury. In reality, only the top 5% of professional players, those involved in international tours etc., are able to reach this level of match exposure.”

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