End of an era: When your rugby career is over

As an official partner of the Rugby Players Association (RPA), Fortius Clinic supports members through their professional careers and during transition into retirement from professional sport.

Under 2% of the UK population make it to being a professional rugby player and when your playing career ends, the transition to ‘normal life’ can be hard. Fortius Clinic Musculoskeletal Podiatrist Ms Anne-Marie O’Connor gives some advice to players on how to move on.

Being a professional rugby player requires working well in a team. It means sticking together and celebrating the wins without being too complacent, staying strong to achieve the unforgettable come backs and being positive after the heart-breaking losses. These unique and powerful skills equip players with the tools to help them through life.

But it can be difficult for full-time professional players when your playing career is over. It’s important to try and maintain some of the same routines and disciplines you had when you were professional to make the transition more fluid.

Exercising is now no longer your full-time job but it’s still your passion and always will be so keeping this as part of a daily routine is essential. Exercising outside should be part of the routine – whether that’s running, cycling, swimming in the lido or even going for a walk.

Playing rugby is tough on the body and unfortunately nobody ends a career in this sport without some daily reminder of that day the injury occurred.

Sports medicine consultants like to advise athletes on ‘active rest’ which is keeping active but resting the injury. For example, you may have a shoulder injury which could be painful when running but not when cycling, or an ankle injury which is painful on anything plyometric but ok when rowing. One of my favourite sayings is: “when you have an injury the worst thing you can do is keep irritating it and you’ll never get better, and the second worst thing you can do is nothing”. Keeping active is essential - and doing exercise which is enjoyable.

Starting the day with mobility exercises is a great way to wake up the mind and body, whether it’s just simple stretches, activation techniques, 20 minutes of yoga or Pilates. The inflammatory nature of injuries results in a feeling of stiffness after any period of immobility for example when you get out of bed in the mornings. This also applies to long periods of sitting so it’s important to keep moving and stretching.

Investigating all those niggles should now be a priority as there is no pressure from the club to get you back to training as soon as possible, sometimes before you’re ready.

So, what about that big toe that still hurts when lunging in the gym, or the shoulder which was dislocated in training or the knee that twisted when the scrum collapsed?

These musculoskeletal injuries may not require surgery - there are other conservative treatments which may be the solution. Injection therapy to lubricate the joint or reduce the pain, orthotics to off-load the area or even advice about the best trainers to wear.

There may be simple solutions to these injuries which could involve a combined treatment programme to compliment a new exercise regime and physiotherapy.