Aim: This paper provides an overview of the epidemiology of rugby league injuries and associated costs in New Zealand requiring medical treatment.
Method: New Zealand national Accident Compensation Corporation injury data for the period 1999 to 2007 were searched for rugby league injury cases. Data were analysed by demographics, body region, nature/severity of injury, and medical procedure and costs.
Results: A total of 5941 injury entitlement claims were recorded over the study period with a significant decrease observed in the injury rate between the 1999–2000 and 2002–2003 reporting years. The total cost of the injuries for the study period was $42 822 048 (equivalent to £15 916 072). The mean (SD) number of injury entitlement claims per year was 743 (271) and yearly cost was $5 352 760 (£1 989 880) ($2 485 535 (£923 994)). The knee was the most commonly reported injury site (225 per 1000 entitlement claims; $8 750 147 (£3 252 020)) and soft tissue injuries were the most common injury types (474 per 1000 entitlement claims; $17 324 214 (£6 438 599)). Accounting for only 1.8% of total injury entitlement claims, concussion/brain injuries accounted for 6.3% of injury entitlement costs and had the highest mean cost per claim ($25 347 (£9420)). The upper and lower arm recorded the highest mean injury site claim cost of $43 096 (£16 016) per claim. The 25–29 age group recorded 27.7% of total injury entitlement claims and 29.6% of total injury entitlement costs, which was slightly more than the 20–24 age group (27.3% claims; 24.7% costs). Nearly 15% of total moderate to serious injury entitlement claims and 20% of total costs were recorded from participants 35 years or older.
Discussion: This study identified that the knee was the most common injury site and soft tissue injuries were the most common injury type requiring medical treatment, which is consistent with other international studies on rugby league epidemiology. This study also highlights that the rate of injury and the average age of injured rugby league players increased over time. The high cost of concussion/brain injuries is a cause for concern as it reflects the severity of the injuries.
Conclusion: Injury prevention programmes for rugby league should focus on reducing the risk of concussion/brain injury and knee and soft tissue injury, and should target participants in the 20–30 years old age range. More longitudinal epidemiological studies with specific details on injury mechanisms and participation data are warranted to further identify the injury circumstances surrounding participation in rugby league activities.
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