Immediate post catastrophic injury management in rugby union. Does it have an effect on outcomes?

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Background: Rugby union ('rugby') has a high injury risk. These Injuries range from having minor consequences to catastrophic injuries with major life changing consequences. In South Africa, previous research indicated that the risk of catastrophic injury was high and that the immediate management was sub-optimal, worsening the injury outcome. In response, the South African Rugby Union launched the BokSmart nationwide injury prevention programme in 2008. Through education - mainly of coaches and referees - this programme aims to improve the prevention and management of catastrophic injuries. Moreover, the programme began administering a standardised questionnaire for all catastrophically injured players to assess the prevention and management of these injuries. Objectives: To assess whether factors in the immediate pre- and post-injury management of catastrophic injuries in rugby were associated with their outcome. In addition, as part of the BokSmart programme in Rugby in South Africa, there were modules developed as part of the education material delivered to referees and coaches in their workshops that deal specifically with safety in the playing environment, and the correct management of catastrophic injuries. We assessed whether these protocols within the modules were implemented. Design: A prospective, cohort study conducted on all catastrophic injuries in rugby collected through a standardised questionnaire by BokSmart between 2008 - 2014. Methods: Secondary analyses were performed on the information collected on all rugby-related catastrophic injuries in BokSmart's serious injury database. Injury outcomes were split into 'permanent' (permanently disabling and fatal) and 'non-permanent' (full recovery/ "near miss"). Immediate post injury management factors as well as protective equipment and ethnicity were analysed for their association with injury outcome using a Fisher's exact test. Results: There were 87 catastrophic injuries recorded between 2008 and 2014. Acute spinal cord injuries (ASCI) made up most of the catastrophic injuries (n=69) with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) the second most common (n = 11 injuries). There were 7 cardiac events. Black African players were associated with a 2.4 times higher proportion of permanent outcome that the injured White players (p=0.001). There was no association between any protective equipment or injury management (including optimal immobilization, time and method of transport taken to hospital) and ASCI outcome (non-permanent vs. permanent) Conclusions: Neither immediate post-injury management, nor the wearing of protective equipment was associated with catastrophic injury outcome in these South African rugby-related injuries. This might indicate that the initial injury is more important in determining the outcome than the post-injury management and associated secondary metabolic cascade, as proposed by some experts in this area. Moreover, that ethnicity was associated with ASCI outcome in this study is indicative of the wider problems in South Africa; not only specific to rugby. It is recommended that BokSmart continue to focus their programme in low socioeconomic areas that play rugby in South Africa.