As a high impact sport with stop-and-start plays, rugby places considerable strain on your knees, which puts you at risk of injury. In my role as a Consultant Orthopaedic Knee and Sports Surgeon, I often see rugby knee injuries from both amateur weekend players and professional athletes. Whichever category you fall into, it’s important to spot the early signs of a rugby knee injury and get treatment promptly. This will ensure your recovery is as quick and smooth as possible, with the most positive outcome.
Rugby knee injuries that commonly go overlooked are those that cause mild or moderate intermittent knee pain. However, when it comes to the long-term health of your knee joint, it’s just as important to treat pain that comes and goes as it is to treat major knee injuries. A clear diagnosis will ensure you get the right kind of treatment as early as possible.
When left untreated or when treatment is delayed, certain knee injuries can increase your risk of developing chronic (long-term) knee pain and knee osteoarthritis, as well as doing further damage to your knee. This is true for one of the most common rugby knee injuries, meniscus tears.
Inside your knee joint are two thick, C-shaped pads of cartilage called menisci. Each meniscus sits between the ends of your shinbone and thigh bone. As your knee joints are load-bearing, which means they carry the weight of your body, your menisci are needed to help distribute this weight across your knee. Each meniscus also helps protect and stabilise your knee joint when you bend and twist it.
Sudden changes in direction, twisting of your knees and unstable footing — all of which can occur when playing rugby — can cause your meniscus to tear. The type of treatment needed will depend on the size and location of your meniscus tear, as well as other injuries sustained, your age and your activity level. This is why it’s so important to see a doctor to get a clear diagnosis.
Reaching a diagnosis of a meniscus tear is usually quick and involves a physical examination and, in most cases, an MRI scan. Often, resting your knee, taking anti-inflammatory painkillers and applying ice packs to reduce swelling is enough to treat a meniscus tear. However, if the results of your MRI scan show more invasive treatment is needed, you may need a knee arthroscopy.
Knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure, where two or three small cuts are made around your knee, through which special surgical instruments and a thin, telescope-like tube with a camera and a light on the end (arthroscope) are passed. Damaged cartilage can then be repaired or removed.
After your arthroscopy, you will need physiotherapy to restore full function and range of movement to your knee. How quickly you recover will depend on the severity of your meniscus tear, your general health, activity levels and age. For some people, recovery is as short as three weeks, while for others it can take 12 weeks or more. Your surgeon and your physiotherapist will advise you on what to expect in your particular case.
Mr James Arbuthnot is a Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at Spire Little Aston Hospital and Spire Parkway Hospital, specialising in knee replacement, knee arthroscopy and knee ligament surgery. Mr Arbuthnot treats both young patients with sporting injuries as well as older patients with degenerative conditions of the knee. As a highly experienced surgeon, every year he performs, on average, 75-100 knee replacements and 70-75 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions, and also offers the very latest in robotic-assisted knee surgery, Mako.