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Elbow Injuries in Rugby

by Katherine Henry ATC LAT

Injury: Elbow Epicondylitis (Also commonly known as golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow)

The Rundown: Epicondylitis is tendonitis of a group of muscles and tendons at the elbow. These muscles control your hand, wrist and your elbow. This injury is typically an overuse injury caused by wear and tear, repetitive motion and often a weakness or imbalance upstream (such as your shoulders).

Symptoms: Pain and tightness in your elbow when you rotate, extend (wrist up), flex (wrist down), swing a golf club, a tennis racket, binding on a scrum, making a long pass or lift in a lineout. The pain can nag and linger for a long period of time especially if modifications are not made and the injury isn’t treated well.

My Clinical Experience: Epicondylitis is a frustrating injury. It can nag and linger, especially if you do not have the ability to recover or get treatment. I have the most success with patients who have struggled with this by finding the underlying cause, whether it be weakness in the muscles or muscles upstream or technique in your golf swing. In rugby, forwards often struggle with epicondylitis because of the position they maintain in the scrum such as forward shoulders and head. The forward position leads to “turning off” of the muscles in the back of their shoulders. This leads to more stress and relying on the elbow musculature to maintain the required scrum position.

Additionally, wearing support at night has shown to give patients relief. When we sleep, we don’t control our positioning and often curl our wrists in the blankets and get into awkward positions. Wearing a splint at night, keeping your wrists in neutral can help the muscles and tendons affected rest, while you’re resting!

What you can try: Try stretching 5x a day and rolling out with a lacrosse or golf ball. Often, athletes will utilize brace (see below) which is great when training doing daily activities, but not good for rugby. Rugby does not allow athletes to wear any brace or protective equipment that has anything hard or is thicker than ¼ inch. Instead, when playing, tape both your wrist using a stronger tape (like leukotape or elastikon) and you can create something similar to the brace mentioned above by taking some Powerflex (self adherent tape) and making a wrap similar to the brace. The brace for when you sleep should be more sturdy and stiff. I think they look like a good old 90s rollerblading wrist guard but when you purchase one, the box will often say carpal tunnel.

Elbow brace:

Wrist Splint at night:

These can easily be found at your local pharmacy, sporting goods store or online.

When to contact your athletic trainer:

Contact your athletic trainer if your wrist isn’t feeling better in a week, if you have sharp, focused pain, you hand or fingers go numb or if the pain progressively worsens.

Your athletic trainer can help you strengthen your wrist and the surrounding structures, help you tape your wrist for activities.

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