Injury rates, mechanisms, risk factors and prevention strategies in youth Rugby Union: What’s all the ruck-us about? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Stephen W. West*, Isla J. Shill, Stuart Bailey, Reid A. Syrydiuk, K. Alix Hayden, Debbie Palmer, Amanda M. Black, Brent E. Hagel, Keith A. Stokes, Carolyn A. Emery

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Rugby Union is a collision team sport played globally. Despite this, significant concerns have been raised regarding the sport’s safety, particularly in youth players. Given this, a review of injury rates, risk factors and prevention strategies is required across different youth age groups as well as in males and females.

The objective of this systematic review (SR) and meta-analysis was to investigate injury and concussion rates, risk factors and primary prevention strategies in youth rugby.

To be included, studies were required to report either rates, risk factors or prevention strategies in youth rugby and to have a randomised controlled trial, quasi-experimental, cohort, case control, or ecological study design. Exclusion criteria included non-peer-reviewed grey literature, conference abstracts, case studies, previous systematic reviews and studies not written in English. Nine databases were searched. The full search strategy and list of sources are available and pre-registered on PROSPERO (Ref: CRD42020208343). Each study was assessed for risk of bias using the Downs and Black quality assessment tool. Meta-analyses were conducted using a DerSimonian Laird random effect model for each age group and sex.

Sixty-nine studies were included in this SR. The match injury rates (using a 24-h time-loss definition) were 40.2/1000 match hours (95% CI 13.9–66.5) in males and 69.0/1000 match hours (95% CI 46.8–91.2) in females. Concussion rates were 6.2/1000 player-hours (95% CI 5.0–7.4) for males and 33.9/1000 player-hours (95% CI: 24.1–43.7) for females. The most common injury site was lower extremity (males) and the head/neck (females). The most common injury type was ligament sprain (males) and concussion (females). The tackle was the most common event associated with injury in matches (55% male, 71% females). Median time loss was 21 days for males and 17 days for females. Twenty-three risk factors were reported. The risk factors with the strongest evidence were higher levels of play and increasing age. Primary injury prevention strategies were the focus of only eight studies and included law changes (n = 2), equipment (n = 4), education (n = 1) and training (n = 1). The prevention strategy with the most promising evidence was neuromuscular training. The primary limitations included a broad range of injury definitions (n = 9) and rate denominators (n = 11) used, as well as a limited number of studies which could be included in the meta-analysis for females (n = 2).

A focus on high-quality risk factor and primary prevention evaluation should be considered in future studies. Targeting primary prevention and stakeholder education remain key strategies in the prevention, recognition and management of injuries and concussions in youth rugby.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine
Early online date16 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 May 2023


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