It is inevitable that in the high energy and high contact sport of rugby, the shoulder is prone to injuries. The forces transmitted to your shoulder in rugby can be tremendous, and injuries can be serious.
Although shoulder injuries are less common than head, neck or lower limb injuries in rugby, they tend to be among the more severe. One study found over half of rugby shoulder injuries are severe, often requiring surgery.
Here we look at common rugby shoulder injuries, ways to help prevent them occurring and managing shoulder injury on the sidelines for a confident return to the game.
Common rugby shoulder injuries
The shoulder joint is a unique and complex joint, containing many elements that control stability as well as mobility. The demands of rugby can affect many of these structures, with dislocations and instability causing the most serious injuries and time out of play.
Studies have shown that rugby tackles contribute to circa 70% of rugby injuries – affecting the tackler as well as the ‘tacklee’. The shoulder damage caused will depend on the position of the arm during the tackle. Tackling injuries can include labrum tears, as well as SLAP tears affecting the biceps tendon at the top of the shoulder, or sometimes dislocation.
One study involving English professional Rugby Football Union clubs, found that nearly a third of shoulder injuries are Acromioclavicular Joint Separations (or AC Joint sprains). This normally involves falling onto an outstretched arm, and ranges from mild to severe.
Can you prevent rugby shoulder injuries?
It’s not always possible to prevent a rugby injury. However, a rigorous strength and training programme can help protect the shoulder from avoidable injuries. Although collisions between rugby players will happen, a strong core, a stable trunk as well as neck and shoulder strength can all provide good resistance. It is also worthwhile enhancing your rugby skills and technique with the help of a coach.
It is important to recognise any shoulder weaknesses, possibly caused by previous injuries, as these can lead to future issues. Seeking advice as soon as you experience shoulder pain can help any injury from worsening. If you are not sure, consider a shoulder MOT with a shoulder specialist, to check everything is in working order.
Managing rugby shoulder injuries
Most rugby injuries, including AC Joint sprains will not require surgery, but usually involve rest, anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. This will normally be determined by a thorough physical examination by a shoulder specialist with the support of imaging to assess the severity of damage.
If other non-surgical treatments have been unsuccessful, surgery may be offered to repair labral tears, for example a SLAP tear repair. This is performed by keyhole surgery, after which a sling will be worn for up to six weeks. It can take up to 12 months involving physical therapy for a full recovery. For dislocations where there is continuing instability, shoulder surgery may be required to repair torn structures in the joint.
If you have a rugby-related shoulder concern that is preventing you from playing at your best, get in touch with The London Shoulder Specialists to arrange a consultation. To book an appointment, call +44 (0) 203 195 2442.