American football is played widely in the U.S.A. and Canada but is only now slowly gaining popularity across the rest of the world. Due to the high impact nature of the sport, injuries are commonplace. A high school football player can expect an 85% risk of injury, compared to a more appealing 36% for high school soccer.
A large number of injuries, in all sports, especially at the lower levels, could be avoided. The following should not be neglected:
Under the rules of the game, certain items of a player’s protective equipment MUST be worn. This includes a helmet, which now also includes a face mask. Before the addition of the face mask, 50% of all football injuries were to the face. Players also wear shoulder, thigh, rib and knee pads and gloves.
A player needs to be fit for not only the sport but also the position he plays. This could not be more important than in football. For example, an offensive lineman needs explosive strength and power as they only cover up to 10 yards per play. A wide receiver, on the other hand, may cover up to 60 yards at a time. Not having the correct level and type of fitness causes fatigue which makes an athlete more prone to injury.
Strength is a must-have for all football players, regardless of their position. Without strength, a player’s speed and tackling ability are reduced. Not only should the athlete train to improve strength, but they should also incorporate power, or explosiveness into their routine. This is strength multiplied by power, or in other words, how quickly you can apply your strength.
This is a component of training which is all to often neglected. An inflexible player is a weaker and less coordinated player. If as much time was spent improving flexibility prior to an injury, as it is post-injury, the rate of injury would almost certainly be lower.
In football, the most common injuries are to the ankle and knee. The majority of injuries sustained are minor injuries which cause the athlete to miss no more than 7 days of training or match play. Only 11% are classed as severe, causing the athlete to be absent for over 3 weeks.
This injury is most commonly sustained when running and changing direction quickly, or when tackling or being tackled. An inversion (lateral) sprain of the ankle occurs when the ankle is rolled over so that the sole of the foot faces inwards. Eversion (medial) sprains are far less common. Find out more about ankle sprains.
Collateral ligament sprains
The collateral ligaments of the knee lie either side of the joint. They are commonly injured in football when a player is bearing weight with a slightly flexed knee as a tackle comes in from the outside. This causes damage to the medial (inner) collateral ligament. This is more common than damage to the lateral ligament. Learn more about collateral ligament sprains.
Anterior cruciate ligament injuries
The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament which is situated deep within the knee joint and has the job of maintaining the position of the Tibia (shin bone) underneath the Femur (thigh bone). The majority of these injuries occur in a non-contact situation at a point where the player lands or decelerates with a twisting motion. Injury to the ACL can also occur following side on contact from an opponent. Learn more about ACL injuries.
The hamstrings are the most commonly torn muscles in all disciplines of football, followed closely by the adductor (groin) muscles. A tear to one of the hamstring muscles most often occurs during a burst of speed especially in muscles that are either fatigued or have been inadequately warmed-up. Learn more about hamstring strains.
The meniscus is two rings of cartilage which sit on top of the Tibia (shin bone), between this and the Femur (thigh bone). A meniscus tear is not uncommon in football and usually occurs in a tackle in which there is a twisting motion, usually with the foot fixed. Degeneration of the cartilage can also become a problem in older footballers, especially following previous knee injuries. Find out more about meniscus injuries.
A hip pointer usually happens when a helmet collides with the iliac crest or hip bone. This can be extremely painful and causes bleeding and bruising to the abdominal muscles. Learn more about hip pointers.
A shoulder dislocation occurs when the humerus (upper arm bone) is forced out of the socket. This can cause varying levels of damage to surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. It occurs most commonly during a tackle. Learn more about shoulder dislocations.
This injury is caused by a blow to the neck resulting in damage to the brachial plexus (a bundle of nerves where they exit the spinal column. They cause a stinging pain that may spread down the arm. Sensations may last for only a few minutes, or in more severe cases may cause long-lasting symptoms and muscle weakness. They are sometimes also called burners. Learn more about stingers and burners.