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Rugby injuries: the journey to recovery

Rugby injuries are a common occurrence for professionals and amateurs alike. We spoke to Daniel Watson, Head of Medical at London Broncos RL, to get his advice on injury management and recovery.

Your recovery from rugby injuries are a journey

Injuries are inevitable in rugby. But a satisfactory return to play following an injury is not. What I have learned from a decade in professional sport is that every injury is a journey and, like most journeys, there will be highs, lows and everything in between.

And of course this is true not only in rugby but in any sport, whether you’re a professional or an amateur.
If only the return to fitness were as simple as putting a destination into a satnav and following the way. As it stands, we still need to pull out the metaphorical A-Z and plan the route.

The difficulty for many of us is that we don’t have the map or, if we do, we don’t know how to read it. This guide aims to provide that map as well as some guidance on how to read it, helping you navigate the sometimes difficult and confusing journey from injury to recovery.

What is the difference between rugby league and rugby union?

There are two types or ‘codes’ of rugby played in the UK: league and union.

They have shared origins and they’re both versions of rugby football. However, while they share many similarities, the two codes are distinctly different.

League and union have different rules concerning possession, tackling and scoring among other things. Different-sized teams play on different-sized pitches. Each has its own associations and tournaments.

Rugby league is played across England but is most popular in the North, where the game originated. In the South of England, all professional rugby teams play union, except for the London Broncos RL.

What does recovery from common rugby injuries involve? 

The start of every journey begins with a destination in mind. When we suffer an injury, it is no different. Your destination is your goal, which in this case is getting back to playing rugby.

Planning the route comes next and, unless you want to take the scenic route, you’d probably like to get to that destination as quickly and safely as possible. In order to do this – to read the map and follow the path effectively – there are four key steps along your journey to recovery:

1. Get a sound diagnosis for your rugby injury

You absolutely need to have a clear idea of what is wrong before you set off. Getting this part of the journey right ensures you have a rough idea of how long your journey will take and allows you to plan the most effective route to recovery.

Get it wrong and you will end up making a U-turn, starting again or at best getting caught in unnecessary delays. I highly recommend that you seek medical attention to get an informed diagnosis and start your journey the way you want it to continue.

Think of your healthcare professional – be it a GP, consultant or physiotherapist – as your travel buddy. They’re there to help you every step of the journey.

2. Establish a rehabilitation programme for injuries including rugby head injuries

You’ve got off to a great start, you know the destination, you have a good idea of how long it will take, now you need to plan and commence the journey.

On the road we have speed cameras that prevent us from driving too fast, traffic lights to tell us when to go and when to stop and signs guiding us in the right direction. The same should be true for your injury journey.

A healthcare professional can spot the signs if you’re progressing too fast and can guide you in choosing the right exercises in terms of intensity and complexity. Without this support it can be difficult to safely navigate your way.

3. Set realistic expectations for major and minor rugby injuries

Now you know what’s wrong and have guidance on how to get back to fitness safely and effectively, it’s important to consider both how long this will take and if there are any potential obstacles.

You might think it’s just a case of strapping in and getting there, but even a well-planned journey can hit setbacks and bumps in the road. The same is true for your rehabilitation. It may take longer to progress from simple to complex exercises. You might not be back in training or on the pitch as quickly as planned. It is possible you may even suffer a setback or reoccurrence of your injury.

Understanding that setbacks are part of the journey is important in order to manage your own expectations. Returning from an injury is not always straightforward.

4. Know when to return to play whether it's a rugby knee injury or a minor injury

You can see the destination, in fact you’re about to put your foot down – the road ahead looks clear. Then bang! The engine suddenly gives out and you’re stranded within touching distance of your goal. So close yet so far!

When you think you’re ready to play, stop and think before you do

It’s natural at this stage to want to get back to the pitch as soon as possible. You’re probably feeling a lot better, you may even have started training again and felt like you were back to normal. No one likes to sit on the side-lines.

However, the decision to return to play should be based on logic and not emotion. And, it should be supported by a healthcare professional.

Suffering an injury doesn’t need to be a nightmare journey. Get a diagnosis, set out a rehabilitation plan, expect the unexpected and don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s not time to get back to play until you’ve really reached recovery.

Want to get a taste of recovery like a professional rugby player? The London Broncos use our AlterG® anti-gravity treadmill at BMI Hendon Hospital to help them get back to peak performance.