Publication: Effect of COVID-19 lockdown on injury incidence and burden in amateur rugby union

Collaboration between IRIS (Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance) Prof Ian Kenny, Dr Tom Comyns, and Argentinian researchers Prof Eduardo Tondelli and Santiago Zabaloy explored an analysis of Southern hemishpere rugby injury burden resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown. The study has been published in a high impact journal, Physical Therapy in Sport and serves as a useful discussion on the training and match impact on performance, negative experiences with rehabilitation, and severity of the injury. Here we provide a summary of the work:

Tondelli, E., Zabalov, S., Comyns T.M. and Kenny I.C. (2023). Effect of COVID-19 lockdown on injury incidence and burden in amateur Rugby Union. Physical Therapy in Sport. 59, 85-91. IF 2.920, Q2, 20/68  DOI: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2022.12.005

COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. In this regard, to counteract the impact of the disease many countries implemented preventive measures like quarantine, lockdown, or self-isolation (Brooks et al., 2020). This led to sports and recreational activities being suspended, negatively impacting the physical, nutritional and mental health of the athletes worldwide (Dönmez et al., 2021; Myall et al., 2021; Roberts et al., 2020). Specifically in Rugby Union, hereafter ‘rugby’, competitions were suspended worldwide in March 2020 across all competitive levels, however, international, and professional competitions were gradually restarted during July and August 2020. During lockdown period, players had to train at home with limited equipment (Washif et al., 2021), whereas when training at clubs, many restrictions were imposed by the government, especially those related to human contact and collision which were suspended. These situations posed a scenario of missing skills training, reducing the chronic load in strength, speed, jumps and other game demands as well as the loss of habitual contact situations and tackles, among other skills. The latter led club coaches and staff to look for the best strategies to counteract the negative impact on physical performance. The aim of the current study was two-fold: i) to analyse match and training injury incidence  rates and injury burden from pre and post lockdown seasons (2019 & 2021) and examine if there may have been any negative effect by the lockdown due to the pandemic; ii) to analyse injury mechanisms, body locations, severity, and the differences of the most common injuries according to playing positions.

Design: An observational study was performed according to the consensus statement on injury definitions and data collection from World Rugby. Injury variables were collected retrospectively for 2019 season and prospectively during 2021 season. Setting: Argentinian amateur rugby club. Participants: Male (n = 110) senior amateur rugby players. Main outcome measures: Match and training time loss injuries, time of exposures and injury related variables.

Results: Training incidence rate during post-lockdown season (4.2/1000 player-training-hours) was significantly higher (p < 0.001) than the pre-lockdown season (0.9/1000 player match hours). Post lockdown hamstring strain injury (HSI) and concussions match incidence rates were significantly (p < 0.001; p < 0.05 respectively) higher in comparison with 2019 season. Regarding playing positions, backs showed a significantly increase (p < 0.05) in HSI match incidence rate post lockdown.

Conclusions: After the COVID-19 lockdown, training incidence rate was significantly higher than previous season (2019), showing the impact of the lockdown restrictions. Coaches and medical staff must consider that players probably need more lead-in time for conditioning and more monitoring after periods of no rugby.

Findings: Table 3 shows the number of injuries, severities, incidences rates and injury burden per season (2019-2021) separated by overall, match, and training, showing the increase post lockdown. Similarly Table 3 shows the six most common injuries with its respective match incidence rate, severity, and injury burden per season, and figures 1 (forwards players) and 2 (backs players) highlight the variation in overall and hamstring injuries which were more for backs players post lockdown.

Kenny_Jan Pub.Table 2 (002)



Kenny_Jan Pub_Table3 (002)

Prof Ian Kenny
Associate Professor – Biomechanics

Dr Tom Comyns
Senior Lecturer – Human Movement Science

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