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Shoulder Dislocations in Rugby League

Physiotherapy in the management of shoulder dislocations in rugby league. When does the individual return to sport?

Rugby League is a very common sport amongst young children, teenagers and adults. Being an extremely high contact sport, injuries are at higher risk in rugby league than in some other sports. In particular, shoulder dislocations seem to be a common injury amongst rugby league players. Due to the hard running, hitting and tackling in the sport, the shoulder can be placed in some really awkward positions. The pain associated with a shoulder dislocation can be quite nauseating and is best to have it reduced (placed back into normal position) by a qualified health professional. This will ensure the least amount of structural damage once having it placed back into position.

The Role of Physiotherapy in managing an acute shoulder dislocation

Physiotherapy is crucial in the management of the acute shoulder dislocation. It especially beneficial for the adolescent/young adult who has sustained the injury. This is due to research studies showing that there is a 90% chance of re-dislocating your shoulder if you are under the age of 20 and wish to continue participating in sport. Of course, this number is against the individual, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean it will dislocate again. Physiotherapy will assist in reducing the likelihood of future dislocations for rugby league players. Early stage management is crucial, along with patient education, taping and rotator cuff and scapula (shoulder blade) stability exercises. Consistency with exercises to improve shoulder stability is key in helping prevent further issues. Physiotherapy will also take a calculated approach to the patient’s future outcomes. For example, if a player has dislocated their shoulder 10 times in the last 2 – 3 years, then surgical stabilisation will benefit the patient.

Return to rugby league after shoulder dislocation

Your physiotherapist will determine when it is safe to return to rugby league. There is no specific timeline that the individual should wait. Rather, it is based on individualised function. Some key things influencing return to play are:

  • Age
  • Previous history of dislocations
  • Structural damage involved
  • Strength and stability tests / Sport specific drill assessments
  • Confidence of the individual
  • Physical fitness levels

Your physiotherapist will ensure the shoulder is taped to provide additional stability to the shoulder. They will also highlight the importance of contuining shoulder stability exercise for the next 6 – 12 months after returning to sport.

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