Tag rugby-related injuries on the rise, warns sports doctor

Thirty-four patients treated for such injuries at St Vincent’s Hospital this year, says doctor

Tag rugby-related injuries are on the rise at one of the State’s busiest emergency departments despite the activity involving very little contact, a sports doctor has warned. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tag rugby-related injuries are on the rise at one of the State’s busiest emergency departments despite the activity involving very little contact, a sports doctor has warned. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tag rugby-related injuries are on the rise at one of the State’s busiest emergency departments despite the activity involving very little contact, a sports doctor has warned.

Suzi Clarke, who worked with the Irish team at the 2012 Olympics in London, said people were regularly presenting at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin with “significant” injuries incurred as a result of the game.

These ranged from fractured fingers to facial lacerations to broken noses and head injuries, she said.

Dr Clarke said triage reports from the hospital’s emergency department, where she works as a sports medicine specialist, showed 34 patients had presented with specific tag rugby-related injuries so far this year.

There were 59 such injuries for the whole of last year and Dr Clarke said these figures did not account for the patients who did not explicitly state that the cause of their injury was tag rugby.

Minimal contact

She said some private clinics in Dublin treat about 100 tag rugby-related injuries a year.

Tag rugby is a minimal contact team game where teams attempt to score tries while preventing those defending from grabbing a velcro strip attached to the ball carrier. The mixed-gender game is often played by teams of friends or work colleagues but there are also national and international games at an elite level.

Dr Clarke said the sport was prone to injury because it involved players of varying fitness levels with “competitive interests”.

“I think, given the social nature of tag rugby, many people are arriving straight from work, getting on to the pitch and a lot of them don’t have a background in the sport at all,” she said. “They may have not learned the proper techniques and this increases the risk of injury.”

Dr Clarke said she has found that many young men present late with injuries related to the game.

“Some guys who just think they have a swollen finger will give it a week or two to go down before they realise they can’t actually move their finger and come into the hospital,” she said. “They may have played since the initial injury which complicates matters, so the earlier you seek help, the better.”

A 2015 study of a number of Irish emergency departments found 228 tag rugby-related hand injuries over a five-year period. The study noted that there were a “surprising” number of injuries for a game deemed to involve little or no contact between players.

The Irish Tag Rugby Association said the game’s 2015 rules were updated this year to explicitly allow referees the power to order a player not to return to the pitch if they suspect an injury has occurred.

Safety update

Jack Leahy, an experienced player and a referee, said this was an important safety update.

Mr Leahy, who was unable to play for 12 weeks earlier this year after injuring his finger and requiring surgery, said this rule aimed to prevent serious and minor injuries from being exacerbated.

“The player will almost always say they’re fine when you tell them to sit the rest of the game off the pitch, so it was vital that we had it in writing that they couldn’t continue,” he said. “People can play fast and loose with how they react to small injuries, but when the adrenaline is pumping you often don’t notice how serious the injury could be.”

Despite his recent injury, a first in his 10 years of involvement in the game, Mr Leahy said the sport was extremely safe and suitable to those of all experience levels. He said the association recommended a “new to tag” coaching programme for beginners, which teaches players how to avoid contact.

Other recent safety measures include a rule stipulating the type of shorts a player should wear, to ensure the material stretched if another player caught their finger in the clothing while trying to grab the tag. Players are also forbidden from wearing items around their wrists such as hair ties or Fitbits.

Shaunagh Devlin, who plays once a week with her Dublin-based work team, said referees were very vigilant for forceful displays of contact but many injuries were a result of contact that is difficult to notice.

Ms Devlin sprained her thumb while playing six weeks ago when she collided with another player and said the injury has not fully healed yet.

“When you’re both running as fast as you can, interacting with another player can hurt, even when you’re not trying to actually touch them,” she said.

“All you have as a means of scoring and defence is your hands, so they can take the full force of the game.”