Football season is a favorite time of year for many – especially across Texas. As excitement builds for Friday night lights, it's important that players, parents and coaches work together to avoid common football injuries and stay healthy throughout the season.
"In any sport, there is going to be risk for injury," says Jeff Baggett, Director of Sports Medicine Development and Community Engagement at the Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. "Fortunately, many common football injuries can be prevented by putting the right strategies in place."
What are the most common football injuries?
Football injuries fall into two different groups – acute and chronic. An acute injury happens suddenly as the result of a fall, hit or other type of contact. A chronic injury develops over time, often as the result of overuse or repetitive motion.
"Some contact injuries can be unavoidable in a sport like football," says Baggett. "Acute or chronic soft tissue injuries, on the other hand, tend to happen as a result of fatigue, overexertion or lack of training."
Football knee injuries
Knee injuries tend to be one of the more common injuries among football players. They can range from mild sprains to more serious injuries that require rehabilitation or surgery.
Common football knee injuries include:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
- Meniscus tears
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury
- Patellofemoral pain
- Sprained knee
"Non-contact knee injuries, like an ACL injury, are the ones we can really focus on preventing," Baggett shares. "Injury prevention programs can help reduce the risk of injuries. Programs including preseason workouts, ACL prevention skills and exercise, and strengthening the trunk and lower extremities."
Football ankle injuries
Football players can also experience ankle injuries such as minor sprains and strains like a lateral ankle injury.
"We usually see players who have rolled or injured the outside of their ankle," says Baggett. "Maybe they planted their foot wrong when making a play or rolled due to contact."
Most ankle injuries heal quickly and don't threaten a season. RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) can help reduce pain and swelling.
Football shoulder and arm injuries
Upper extremity injuries in football aren't as common as injuries to the lower extremities. The most common shoulder and arm injuries include:
- Sprains and strains to the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder
- Acromioclavicular (AC) joint injury
- Shoulder subluxation
- Shoulder dislocation
- Stinger injuries
Many upper extremity injuries are the result of a new tackling style in football. Players are being coached to tackle first with their shoulders instead of their head, to help prevent head and neck injuries. This shifts the impact to the shoulder and arms. However, most shoulder and arm injuries in football tend to be mild and easily treated.
Football head injuries
Recent years and research have brought more attention to the risk of concussions among football players. Teams, coaches, athletic trainers and players have adopted new training and playing rules and received education to help reduce concussion risk and identify the signs of a concussion.
Baggett advises coaches, players and parents to look for reputable sources of information about concussions. "Concussions are a serious injury, but they are more avoidable with the right training and approach. Be sure you ask questions to a medical professional experienced in diagnosing and treating concussions to ensure you are getting the most accurate advice."
Heat-related injuries in football players
Heat-related injuries are another serious football injury. Players are starting practice in the hot summer sun and can quickly overheat.
"Heat-related injuries are the most serious, preventable injury in sports," Baggett says. "It's essential that parents, players and coaches put the right precautions in place to reduce the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related injuries."
Prevent heat-related injuries by:
- Making sure players eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water and get adequate rest. Heat can have a cumulative effect on athletes in the summer. They need to stay healthy all week long to give their body the energy it needs to stay cool.
- Maintaining weight during summer training. Monitor athletes' fluid loss by weighing in and out before and after practices. A noticeable drop in weight can signal that an athlete is becoming dehydrated or lost too much fluid.
- Knowing the symptoms of heat-related injuries. Make sure athletes and coaches know the symptoms of heat stroke before the season begins.
- Wearing the right kind of equipment. Wear clothes that help wick sweat away from the body and keep you cool. Acclimatizing to summer heat can also help reduce heat injuries.
- Encouraging open and honest communication. Coaches should encourage players to let them know if they are starting to overheat.
- Making a plan. Know what to do to help athletes quickly cool down when they become overheated.
How to prevent football injuries
Baggett, who has worked with all levels of athlete from youth to professional, says that football injury prevention comes down to two important strategies: an open-door policy and taking steps to combat fatigue.
Players, coaches, athletic trainers and parents need to work together to communicate when there is an issue. Players should be honest when they're not feeling their best or are experiencing issues. Coaches, athletic trainers and parents need to encourage that open line of communication and be prepared to address concerns so players can stay healthy.
Preparation for the season is also key in preventing fatigue, which is a common cause of football injuries. It's vital that athletes train and condition properly, eat healthy, stay hydrated and get enough rest.
"Athletes need to adequately prepare for stresses of competition," Baggett encourages. "Training is so important, and all those things you do in preparation and recovery helps combat fatigue. When it comes to injury prevention, you're really trying to prevent fatigue because that's when your injury profile changes."
Open communication and monitoring fatigue are key to helping athletes avoid common football injuries. A certified athletic trainer with @Childrens shares other prevention tips.
The only pediatric institute of its kind in Texas, the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. Learn more about our wide range of services available to help athletes stay healthy and improve their game.