Doctor of Education
Faculty of Education
Ritchie, Peter Gordon, A specialised upper body exercise system for injury risk reduction in adolescent rugby league players, Doctor of Education thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, 1997. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/967
Rugby League is a sport which can develop capacities for exemplary physical fitness, skill and courage. However, the cost of injuries suffered whilst playing Rugby League is of major concern to the players, to their coaches, and to the greater community as a whole, both in terms of the medical expenses involved in treating the injuries and in the loss of productive time and capacity due to injuries. Player preparation is of utmost importance in reducing the risk of injury inherent in a body contact sport such as Rugby League.
This research involved the study of the implementation of a specialised exercise system aimed at reducing the risk of upper body injuries for adolescent Rugby League players ( N = 156 ). Injuries to the shoulder and the neck regions were the specific injury sites targeted.
Descriptive statistics, two-sample pooled t-tests, and chi-square tests were employed to analyse normative upper body fitness test data collected at pretests and posttests. Injury incidence monitoring was undertaken by the club personnel involved and by the researcher. The researcher regularly attended training sessions and games in the capacity of skilled observer to monitor training procedures and injury incidence. Survey instruments were developed to obtain further data on dependent variables such as amount of training time devoted to the exercises and player opinions of the effectiveness of the prescribed preventive exercises.
The study found significant differences in the injury rates experienced by the subject population. The study also demonstrated results which indicated the exercise system influenced changes in fitness on a number of specific upper body fitness tests with implications for future injury risk reduction strategies.
The major finding for body contact sports was that high levels of specific shoulder endurance, as demonstrated by the Behind Neck Press Endurance low-weight barbell press-ups test, exposes the athlete to a significantly greater risk of very serious shoulder injury such as dislocation of the gleno-humeral joint. The experimental exercise system which targeted anterior as well as posterior overhead arm and shoulder strength development was shown to significantly decrease behind the neck shoulder endurance of this type, and therefore the program reduced the risk of very serious shoulder injury.
Accepted current practice discounts the importance of weight training exercises at angles behind the neck, and the researcher's tendency to favour a "more balanced" resistance training development of the body musculature has been vindicated by the findings of this study. Many sports trainers, even at the elite professional level, employ weight training programs that emphasise power components using the Olympic Lift and Bench Press. These exercises concentrate on power development for anterior arm and shoulder actions and slight anterior overhead arm and shoulder actions. There is, however, a tendency to discount (and hence neglect) the importance of an all-round program that would of necessity include behind the neck shoulder power development exercise inclusions. The experimental exercise system indicated a need for conditioning programs with a component of behind the neck shoulder development because such a component is of particular importance in reducing upper body injury risk in those athletes identified as possessing high levels of behind the neck shoulder endurance. The exercise schedule developed is therefore a positive contribution to knowledge in the field of preventive sports medicine.
The study also incidenced a dangerous example of Rugby football code referees sometimes allowing hazardous game practices such as "screwing" or "collapsing" the scrum to go unpenalised. Although the minor neck injuries attributed to such circumstances in the study did not require medical treatment, there were serious implications for players being placed at risk of possible catastrophic neck injuries and further steps should be taken by the respective administrating bodies to ensure that this practice is completely eliminated.