Introduction: Injury risk may vary throughout the playing season. The rapid increase in exposure to matches or contact at the start of a season may increase injury risk; conversely, accumulation of training and match stress may increase risk towards the end of a season. The timing of injuries throughout the playing season has rarely been studied, with no identified studies on injury timing in amateur rugby players, where the majority of participation occurs. Understanding patterns in injury risk may assist in planning graded exposure, training periodisation, and injury prevention strategies. The aim of this study was to investigate the timing of contact and non-contact injuries in amateur male rugby union players.
Methods: Amateur male rugby union players participating in the highest amateur, non-representative, non-professional level from one club (four competition levels) in the Newcastle and Hunter region of NSW were followed over one season. The team physiotherapist recorded injuries according to the Rugby Injury Consensus Group guidelines, classifying injuries by body location, severity, new vs recurrent, and contact vs non-contact. For analysis, all injuries were included regardless of time-loss and the playing season was categorised into thirds: (1) pre-season and rounds 1-5, (2) rounds 6-11, and (3) rounds 12-17. Chi-square tests determined differences in the number and type of injuries occurring in each third of the playing season.
Results: Players (n=151) were aged 22.1±2.8y, height 182±6cm, weight 91±11kg, and body mass index 28.5±3.4kg.m-2. Ninety-five (63%) players incurred 212 injuries: 187 (88%) during matches and 25 (12%) during training. The overall injury rate was 32/1000 player hours; 148/1000 player-match hours; and 5/1000 player-training hours. Injury incidence was highest in the first third of the season (n=96, 45%), declining through the season, with significantly fewer injuries in the last third (n=51, 24%; χ2(2, 212)=15.0, p<0.001). Contact injuries declined through the season: more in the first third (n=75, 54%) compared to the last third (n=19, 14%), but non-contact injuries increased: more in the last third (n=32, 44%) compared to the first third (n=21, 29%; χ2(2, 212)=25.2, p<0.001). New injuries decreased and recurrent injuries increased through the season (χ2(2, 212)=22.8, p<0.001). Body location and severity of injury did not differ (p>.05) across the season.
Discussion: Amateur rugby players had a high incidence of match injuries, and more injuries at the season start compared to the end. More contact injuries occurred early in the season whereas more non-contact injuries occurred towards the end of the season. These findings may inform player preparation, in-season training, controlled exposure or injury prevention programs in amateur rugby.
Impact and application to the field: High numbers of contact injuries early in the season in amateur rugby may suggest players are not prepared and may require more contact conditioning during pre-season training. Increasing numbers of non-contact and recurrent injuries later in the season may suggest that in-season training loads, playing exposures or return the play strategies could be investigated to reduce injuries.
Conflict of interest: We acknowledge we have no conflict of interest of relevance to the submission of this abstract.