England team doctor Simon Kemp

THE ANNUAL injury audit by Premiership Rugby, the Rugby Players’ Association and the Rugby Football Union shows a 20% reduction in the likelihood of sustaining a match injury in season 2009-10 compared with the previous season. There was also a reduction in the severity of each injury from 23 days to 22 days and as a result a commensurate reduction in the total number of days absent due to injury of 26%.

The data is contained in the seventh England Rugby Premiership Training & Injury Audit 2009-10 presented and accepted by the Professional Game Board on January 20. The injury audit has been conducted since the 2002-3 season and is the largest continuous study of injuries in world rugby.

An injury is defined in the study as ‘any injury that prevents a player from taking a full part in all training activities typically planned for that day and/or match play for more than 24 hours’.

Data was gathered from all registered Premiership Rugby players and covered training and playing in all the major competitions. Data was also gathered from the elite England team, but due to the relatively low number of matches played, the main body of the audit is based on data gathered from the Premiership Rugby clubs.

Key findings:

  • 636 match injuries at Premiership Rugby clubs were reported in 2009-10; an average of 1.6 injuries per match leading to an average absence from playing and training of 22 days
  • The likelihood of sustaining an injury dropped from 100 injuries per 1,000 hours in 2008-9 to 80 injuries per 1,000 hours in 2009-10
  • Small decrease in the number of knee Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries, which had significantly affected the figures in 2008-9, but injuries fell across all levels of severity
  • Reduced likelihood and reduced severity meant that the average days’ absence per club, per match, fell from 46 days in 2008-9 to 34 days in 2009-10, a reduction of 26%
  • Largest drop seen in the incidence of recurrence of injury. Days absence per 1,000 hours due to recurrence of an injury dropped from 485 in 2008-9 to 207 in 2009-10, a decrease of 43% and reported as “a marker of the completeness of rehabilitation by Premiership Rugby and England medical and conditioning staff and a very encouraging trend”

Dr. Simon Kemp, RFU Head of Sports Medicine and Chair of the England Rugby Premiership Injury and Training Audit Steering Group that produced the report, said: “The data contained in the latest report shows a welcome reduction in the likelihood of match injuries and in that regard is much closer to the results of previous years.

“There was a reduction in the severity of injuries across all categories and a marked reduction in the recurrence of match injuries. That suggests a more complete and effective rehabilitation of all injuries by club and England medics.

“On behalf of the group I would like to thank the doctors, physiotherapists and strength and conditioning staff at all the clubs and those involved with the England teams for their support in producing the data contained in this report.”

England Rugby Head Coach Martin Johnson CBE said: “I am encouraged by the results of the latest injury audit and the reduction in both the likelihood and severity of injury.

“Investment in the injury audit has been crucial, providing the game in England with a robust, clinical programme of research that allows the kind of accurate assessment of the injury risk involved in training for and playing elite rugby union that no other country can replicate.”

Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, added: “The reduction in injury rates shown in the latest audit is encouraging, however the value is in the ongoing analysis of data and the changes that can inform.

“The injury audit is the main part of what is a much wider programme of medical initiatives taking place in England designed to promote the safest playing and training environment in world rugby. Cardiac screening, the illicit drugs education programme, the alcohol education programme, pitch side trauma care and concussion management are all examples of what is happening at the elite levelin England and an example of what can be achieved when clubs, players and the union work together.”

David Barnes, Bath Rugby player and Chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association, said: “Maintaining good player welfare is key to the continuing success of the game and we are pleased to see injury rates falling in this latest audit. It’s important now to remain vigilant and sustain the levels of research that will improve our understanding of the causes and nature of rugby injuries. Using this knowledge and working to ensure best practice continues to be present and consistent in all club and international teams will enable us to continue this downward trend in rates of injury.”