Local Doctor To Accompany U.S. Rugby Team To World Cup

Aug 24, 2015

Credit Paddy McCann / Flickr

Rugby is an intense sport in which players team up to tackle a ball-carrier. It is similar to football, except play is constantly ongoing and players wear very little padding.

Like football, rugby necessitates doctors to be on hand during matches in case of injury, according to Sam Akhavan, who will be traveling to England next month for the Rugby World Cup as a team physician for the U.S. National Rugby Team.

Akhavan, an orthopedic surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, said his three-year relationship with U.S. Rugby has grown gradually over the years, and this will be his first World Cup.

“After three or four different tours with the national team in different countries,” he said, “we kind of got to the point where we moved on to actually work with the national team.”

Due to the sport’s fast, continuous pace, he said he sees a lot of orthopedic injuries typically associated with sports – such as ligament tears and shoulder dislocations, as well as concussions.

“That’s actually one of the things that we’re there to make sure the athletes are safe and that we diagnose these early and get the athletes out of the game and safe as early as we can,” he said.

According to a study conducted in 2001, 25 percent of missed games by rugby players are due to concussions.

Akhavan said play does not stop for injuries, so he must constantly watch the field for injuries and treat injured players while avoiding ongoing play on the field.

“Once the play stops, then they will actually stop the game, stop the clock so that we can actually assess,” he said. “But a lot of times, we are actually in the middle of a game, actually evaluating an athlete while play is going on around us.”

Despite the fact that rugby players use very little protective equipment, he does not believe additional gear would help prevent injuries, because players have learned how to perform functions such as running with the ball and tackling while causing the least amount of risk to their bodies.

“If you had any gear on,” he said, “I actually think that would probably make the situation worse in that there would be a lot more contact of the protective equipment against somebody’s either face, or other parts of their body, it may cause further injury.”

The 2015 Rugby World Cup begins Sept. 18 and runs through the end of October.