Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, with a 33% annual increase in participation among youth athletes. In part, the popularity of rugby in the US can be attributed to an increased visibility of the sport at the high school and collegiate levels, and the recent success of the USA Rugby National Team. The US fields a “7s” and a “15s” team, characterized by the number of players on the field during competition. The 7s team recently qualified for participation in the 2016 Rio Olympics. This will be the first time the sport is featured in Olympic competition since 1924. The 15s team, otherwise known as the Eagles, is currently ranked 16th in the world, and qualified to compete this fall at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists have a long-standing tradition of providing orthopedic care for young rugby players. ONS doctors have served as team physicians for the Greenwich High School rugby team, one of the strongest high school teams in the country. Currently, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Marc Kowalsky is the team physician for the USA Rugby National Team. Having played rugby himself at Dartmouth College he understands the game from a medical and player’s perspective. He also serves as team physician for the Iona College Rugby Team and the White Plains Rugby Football Club.
“Injuries that are typically encountered in rugby encompass the entire spectrum of injuries treated in any collision sport. As with American Football, there has been a significant increase in attention to concussion and traumatic brain injury in the sport. World Rugby, the governing body of international rugby, and USA Rugby, have devoted a significant amount of time, energy, and resources to optimize the prevention, detection and care of concussion and traumatic brain injury among rugby players.
Two of the important measures to prevent concussion from occurring are, avoiding contact in the sport at a young age, and proper instruction about safe tackling as contact is introduced. At the elite level, techniques for safe tackling are certainly reinforced. From the perspective of the medical team, all members of the USA Rugby medical staff are required to complete the IRB Level 2 Immediate Care in Rugby Course to prepare for the management of catastrophic injuries during training and competition. Physicians and trainers are additionally required to complete extensive training in the assessment and management of concussion in particular.
Another key tool is a baseline neurocognitive exam to measure an athlete’s cognitive function, or the ability to process information. All players complete neurocognitive testing once they join the team, to establish baseline values for each athlete, which become important in the assessment of an athlete who may have sustained a concussion.”
World Rugby and USA Rugby continue to improve the medical team’s ability to assess injured athletes during competition. Clear guidelines have been established to guide treatment and determine an athlete’s ability to return to play. All of these measures will be in place as the USA Rugby National Team prepares for competition in the Pacific Nation’s Cup, July 18, 2015. Dr. Kowalsky will accompany the team and serve as team physician.