A retrospective study of cervical spine injuries in American rugby, 1970 to 1994

Am J Sports Med. Jul-Aug 1996;24(4):454-8. doi: 10.1177/036354659602400408.


We undertook a retrospective study to document and analyze the occurrence of cervical spinal injuries in rugby in the United States from 1970 to 1994. We studied 59 cases (average, 2.36 per year). Thirty junior-level players (50.8%) (college or high school), 28 (47.5%) men's club players, and 1 (1.7%) woman player were injured. Fifty-seven injuries (97%) occurred during games. The incidence of cervical spine injuries is well documented in the United Kingdom and South African literature. However, no study in United States literature discusses the incidence or cause of cervical spine injury in rugby. We found that coaching is less consistent in the United States. Players with more weight and less experience are playing positions that require significant skill. Many players in the United States learn skills in games rather than in practice. In our study, 52.5% (31 of 59) of the injured players were junior-level players. Conversely, in world competition junior-level athletes sustained only 30% to 40% of the cervical spine injuries. Understanding the factors that contribute to cervical spine injuries is paramount in injury prevention. Through this study, we hope to promote change in rugby laws and regulations, as has been done in football, to enhance the safety and pleasure of the sport for players, coaches, and spectators.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology