Background: In the literature, little is known about the level and pattern of rugby injuries. Of the shoulder injuries reported, 51% of these are caused during a tackle, and 65% of all match injuries affected the shoulder.
Objective: The study aims to describe a sport-specific unique intra-articular shoulder pathology of professional rugby players, who presented with persistent pain and dysfunction despite physiotherapeutic treatment and rest.
Method: This study is a retrospective analysis set at a university sports medicine clinic. Eighty-seven professional rugby players, referred by their professional medical team since they could no longer play, underwent shoulder arthroscopy between June 2001 and October 2007 due to persistent shoulder pain and dysfunction. All were full-time professional male rugby union and rugby league players. They all had failed conservative treatment for their complaint, and the diagnosis was unclear. Arthroscopic findings were used as a measure of main outcome.
Results: The primary mechanism of injury was reported as direct tackling (56%; n = 49) followed in succession by falling onto the arm (10%; n = 8). However, in 30% of the cases, no definite injury could be recalled. The main operative finding was that most patients exhibited multiple shoulder pathologies, with 75% of cases presenting with two or more pathologies. A superior labrum anterior to posterior (SLAP) lesion was evident at arthroscopy in 72 of the 87 cases (83%), while rotator cuff tears were evident in 43% of cases (n = 37). One-third of all cases had a Bankart tear (n = 29), despite none of them reporting previous dislocations, while other labral tears, excluding SLAP tears, to the inferior or posterior labrum were present in 34% (n = 30) of the cohort.
Conclusions: Repeated tackling, which is clearly rugby specific, is most likely to be responsible for most of these shoulder injuries, which upon arthroscopic examination, showed signs of mixed pathology. We suggest that an early arthroscopic investigation is valuable in this population in order to confirm treatable diagnosis on the painful shoulder and expedite a safe return to play.