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Contact-Sport Related Injuries

Jerry Martin provides an overview of the standard contact sport-related injuries.

The risk of injury is part of the appeal of contact sports. Many fans and players love contact sports for the bravery players display when they make big tackles. Injuries are par for the course. As well as the usual sprains and strains familiar to any sportsman, contact-sport players regularly sustain cuts and bruises, and more severe injuries are not uncommon. A particular risk in a contact sport is a head injury. Rugby and American Football players often collide head-first, and a player on the receiving end of a hard tackle can find their head hitting the ground before they have time to stop it.

The pros minimise the risk of injury with carefully calibrated training regimes by accredited coaches, doctors and physios. At professional contact-sport matches, medical staff is always present to check on an injury sustained in play. In the case of head injuries, players are monitored until a professional medic OKs them to return to the field.

However, the millions of amateur players worldwide have little or no medical supervision. They decide for themselves if they are ready to get stuck back in. Players who pride themselves on being tough and players who are determined not to let their team down are especially at risk of playing with an injury that needs attention. The inevitable result is a repeated injury. A repeated injury is nearly always a worse injury. In the case of head injuries, the consequences can be severe.

The Most Common Types of Injury

Soft Tissue

The most common injuries to contact-sport players affect soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Quick turns, sudden leaps, and sharp pivots are crucial weapons in the arsenal of a rugby or American Football player, but all these manoeuvres put a strain on the muscles and other soft tissues. Playing or training too much without sufficient recovery time makes your muscles vulnerable to damage.

You can do a lot to minimise your chances of sustaining a soft-tissue injury. Most players know that warm-up is vital. A good warm-up oxygenates your muscles and stretches your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. If you play contact sports, your training regime should incorporate drills that strengthen the muscles involved in sprinting, sudden acceleration, darting changes of direction, and anything else which is a big part of the way you play. Do not try to do too much. If you train with weights, increase the weight gradually. If you are returning from an injury, accept that you will have to get your fitness back gradually. Always warm down as well as up. A warm-down should be gentle and focus on stretches.


Trauma injuries are one of the hallmarks of contact sport. When you hit another player or the ground, you can easily sustain a cut or a bruise, or, more seriously, a dislocated joint or a fracture. A player on the receiving end of a big tackle can get whiplash. Those sudden sprints and pivots can cause trauma as well as soft-tissue injuries. Ligament sprains and cartilage damage to are the most common.

Trauma injuries typically take much longer to heal than soft-tissue injuries. Some trauma injuries heal in days, but others take months. In some cases, trauma injury will not heal properly without medical intervention. Physiotherapy and even surgery might be necessary.

Scrum caps, helmets, and gumshields go some way towards preventing superficial head injuries and damage to the teeth. Nothing, however, can guarantee a player's safety from trauma injuries. They are one of the risks of contact sports.


One of the more common injuries in a contact sport is also one of the most serious: concussion. Usually, it results from a blow to the head, but whiplash can also cause a concussion. One of the dangers of whiplash concussion is that it is often overlooked. Sufferers believe they cannot be concussed because they have not taken a blow to the head.

A concussion is a brain injury. In most cases, its effects are temporary. A person with a concussion might feel dizzy. Their vision may blur, and they might even see double. Sometimes, there are cognitive symptoms, including memory loss and an inability to concentrate or follow what is being said to you. A concussion can also make you nauseous, make your ears ring, and make you slur your speech.

It is vital for all contact-sport players to know these symptoms and be able to recognise them. A player with a concussion should not be allowed to return to the field. If the player insists on continuing, the match officials should be alerted immediately. A player with a concussion needs to go to a hospital. Playing on with a concussion carries the risk of sustaining a second concussion, which can be very serious. Research has conclusively shown that repeated concussions seriously affect long-term mental health. Repeated concussions may also contribute to the onset of ALS and Alzheimer's.

All traumatic injuries require rest, and concussion is no different. A player who has sustained a concussion should take a break from physical exertion and mental exertion. Even watching TV or using a computer risks causing the symptoms of a concussion to return or even get worse. For this reason, people often feel frustrated and bored when they are trying to recover from a concussion.

The Concussion Controversy

The risk of concussion while playing contact sport has recently become a source of controversy. Some concerned parents in the UK have called for rugby, or at least tackling, to be banned in schools. But these calls have generally been seen as excessive. Neither the British medical establishment nor Headway, a UK charity that addresses brain injury, have supported the idea of a ban.

Another approach that has garnered some support is the introduction of compulsory helmets in rugby. American Football players must wear helmets, and concussions are a bigger problem in that sport than in rugby. However, medical professionals point out that it is usually not the initial blow but the movement of the head after it has been hit, which causes a concussion.

Rugby's governing body acknowledges that the risk of concussion is an issue that needs to be addressed. World Rugby's preferred approach is to increase awareness of concussion risks through their coaching development programs. Far from banning younger children from tackling, World Rugby believes that children should be taught to tackle correctly at a young age, to avoid the dangers that result from reckless tackling by older teenagers.

Head Injury Claims

It is a complicated and involved process to claim for a head injury you have sustained while playing a sport. From a legal perspective, just by playing a contact sport, you have accepted certain risks, of which head injury is one. Suppose your injury resulted from dangerous or careless actions on another player or a match official. In that case, you might be able to make a claim. You will need the advice of a legal expert who specialises in this kind of work. They can talk you through your options and instruct you on how to claim for a head injury.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MARTIN, J. (2018) Contact-Sport Related Injuries [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Jerry Martin is a tutor at Columbia University in New York lecturing in Industry Business, Health, Fashion, etc.