American Football is an intensive contact sport where serious injuries are not uncommon. However, it is also one of the best protected, due to the amount of body armour and protective headgear the players wear as a mandatory standard.
Most Common American Football Injuries
Here is a list of some of the most common injuries suffered by American football players. Knee injuries are among the most common, especially ACL ruptures and cartilage tears. Due to sudden bursts of speed and changes in direction, similar to other field sports such as soccer, hamstring strains and ankle sprains are also frequent.
Symptoms of a hamstring strain include a sudden sharp pain at the back of the thigh usually whilst sprinting or a fast stretching movement or high kick. Hamstring strains are graded 1, 2 or 3 depending on how bad they are.
ACL Injury - Anterior cruciate ligament sprains are common in contact sports and those involving a sudden change of direction. Often an ACL injury will occur in combination with injury to other structures in the knee joint and require immediate first aid. Read more on treatment for ACL Injury
Knee Ligament Injuries
Knee Ligament Injuries - Knee ligament injuries are relatively common within American Football. There are two most common knee ligament injuries. An MCL sprain is a tear to the medial ligament on the inside of the knee. A lateral ligament sprain is a knee ligament injury involving a tear to the ligament on the outside of the knee and is most likely following a direct blow to the inside of the knee.
Rotator cuff strains
Rotator cuff strains are a common injury within American Football. A rotator cuff strain is a tear to any of the four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder. These muscles are important for stabilizing the shoulder joint. Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff will usually consist of sudden pain in the shoulder sometimes accompanied by a tearing feeling. This can be severe and may transmit down into the arm. Read more on how to treat and rehabilitate a rotator cuff strain.
Ankle Sprain - One of the most common injuries in sport. Symptoms may vary from being very mild to very severe. With a mild sprain the athlete will likely be able to continue with training or competition. A very sever injury could result in hospital treatment and take longer to heal than a broken ankle. Read more on ankle sprain diagnosis and treatment.
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury causing pain, inflammation and potential degeneration of the achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. Symptoms can be either acute or chronic. Acute tendonitis is usually more painful and of recent onset. Chronic injuries will have come on gradually and over weeks or may follow an acute injury. Chronic injuries do not necessarily prevent, however they can aggravate the sufferer, causing discomfort and affecting performance. Read more on treatment and rehabilitation of Achilles tendonitis.
Jumper's knee or patellar tendonitis is an overuse injury that results in pain at the front of the knee, localised at a point towards the bottom of the kneecap. Repetitive strain from too much running or jumping causes inflammation or degeneration of the patella tendon. Patellar tendonitis can be a tricky condition to treat and requires a substantial period of rest and a thorough treatment and rehabilitation program. Read more on the causes and treatment of Jumper's knee.
Shin Splints is the common term used to refer to symptomatic pain of the front of the lower leg. Medically know as tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are aggravating to the sufferer and impede upon athletic ability. However the correct treatment and rehabilitation ensures a full recovery. Read more on how to prevent and treat shin splints.
Metatarsal stress fracture
A metatarsal stress fractures is a fine fracture in one of the long metatarsal bones in the foot. A stress fracture can occur through overuse or poor foot biomechanics. Symptoms include pain in the foot which occurs gradually. The pain will be located towards the middle or front of the foot and is made worse by weight bearing activities such as walking, running or dancing. Read more on metatarsal stress fractures.
Immediate first aid for acute injuries
The PRICE principles are the gold standard set for treating acute sports injuries. The acronym stands stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and should be applied as early as possible and continued for at least the first 24-72 hours.
What is the PRICE principle?
The P.R.I.C.E. principle involves all the components that are required to prevent further injury and start the healing process of the damaged tissue. If applied early enough and correctly it can significantly reduce the recovery time of the athlete. Reminder: The letters P.R.I.C.E. are abbreviations for:
- P - Protection
- R - Rest
- I - Ice
- C - Compression
- E - Elevation
Should I seek professional treatment?
Injuries that include trauma to the head should always receive urgent medical care as these injuries are medical emergencies. Even if the injured player appears to have recovered, the internal trauma of a head injury is potentially fatal, so medical checks and monitoring are essential.
It is vital that those who have experienced any kind of significant impact or trauma to the head, neck, or back seek medical assistance.
If you have any of the following symptoms you should seek further medical assistance.
- Trauma or impact injury to the head, neck or spine
- Any symptoms of concussion
- Severe pain, especially on walking
- Severe swelling (oedema)
- Altered sensation in the legs or feet – such as a feeling of “pins and needles” (paresthesia) or a “loss of feeling” (anaesthesia).
- Unable to complete normal daily activities after the initial 72 hours.
For non medical emergencies, further medical assistance for injuries can be sought through either your local GP or a private clinician such as a physiotherapist, sports therapist, osteopath or chiropractor. If you have followed the P.R.I.C.E. principles (see below) and are still unable to walk after 72 hours or still have severe pain that is not subsiding after the first 72 hours you should visit your local A&E department for further assessment.
Secondly, if you have applied for P.R.I.C.E. principles and still have weakness that lasts a long time (more than 2 weeks) or have ongoing discomfort in your foot or heel, you are highly recommended to seek advice from a specialist expert - such as a podiatrist or physiotherapist, osteopath, or chiropractor - who can provide you with advice and an appropriate and effective recovery and rehabilitation program.
Preventing Football injuries
Here we cover in more detail the most common soccer injuries and prevention strategies from warming up to wearing the right boots! We also look at supports and braces for soccer and how to maintain your fitness when you are injured.
Probably 75% of Football injuries are preventable. The best protection from injury is correct warm up and conditioning which can help you avoid unnecessary injury that can ruin the season.
Warming up is often overlooked but should be part of your injury prevention routine. A good warm up will:
- Increase the temperature of muscles - they work better at a temperature of 40 degrees.
- Increase blood flow and oxygen to muscles.
- Increase the speed of nerve impulses - making you faster.
- Increase range of motion at joints reducing the risk of tearing muscles and ligaments.
Warm up will not only help avoid injury but will also improve performance.
A warm up should consist of:
- Gentle jog to circulate blood and oxygen supplying the muscles with more energy to work with.
- Stretching to increase the range of motion at joints (see below).
- Sports specific exercises and drills.
The warm up should last between 15 and 30 minutes. Do not warm up too early. The benefits are lost after about 30 minutes of inactivity.
The FIFA 11 is a programme developed to help reduce injuries in soccer. It consists of a series of exercises that should be used before training and matches.
This is also often overlooked in favour of the bar but can help avoid injuries and boost performance. The aim of the cool down is to:
- Gradually lower heart rate.
- Circulate blood and oxygen to muscles, restoring them to the condition they were in before exercise.
- Remove waste products such as lactic acid.
- Reduce the risk of muscle soreness.
The cool down should consist of a gentle jog followed by light stretching.
Getting a regular sports massage can flush the muscles of waste products and release tight knots, lumps and bumps in muscles that if left may cause strains and tears. It is possible for a good sports massage therapist to identify potential trouble spots long before they become injuries.
Not having the proper equipment for playing can cause injury. The ideal football boot should have:
- A rigid heal counter
- Good depth in the upper
- A flexible forefoot
- A wide sole and be slightly curved in shape.
Shin pads are also an essential piece of kit. Look after your legs!
Nutrition and Hydration
Proper nutrition is important. A bad diet will prevent you from recovering from training sessions making you more prone to injury. A balanced diet is what you should aim for:
- Carbohydrate is important for refueling muscles.
- Protein rebuilds muscles.
- If you become dehydrated then less blood will flow through muscles. The muscles will be more prone to injury.
- Vitamins and minerals are required for a number of reasons related to recovery.
Much of what is discussed above should be part of your sporting routine. A biomechanical analysis can help identify possible injury risks. Orthotic devices can help. Also an assessment from a sports therapist or specialist can identify weak areas and possible injury risks. A course of exercises specific to your needs can give you the best chance of avoiding injury.
This includes general conditioning, aerobic fitness and muscular strength. If you are in good condition then you are less likely to get injuries. Strong muscles are less likely to tear. A player that can keep going for the full 90 minutes is less likely to be late in a tackle. Good all-round conditioning will balance the body and help avoid necessary injuries. Footballers can get stronger hip flexor muscles through repeated kicking on one side. This twists the pelvis and lower back causing other problems including recurrent hamstring injuries.
Not allowing your body to recover properly from training will eventually result in injury. Your body needs time to rebuild itself stronger before the next training session. Remember - you are not training when you are training, you are training when you recover! Sleep is also an important part of your training. If you are not getting enough, get it sorted.
In the event that a sports injury does occur, having a sports insurance policy will mean you are covered for costs of treatment and lost earning!
Knee Braces for Football
Football players are commonly struck down by knee injuries, resulting most frequently from tackles and sudden changes of direction. Injuries such as torn ligaments and cartilage tears are regularly seen. It is important to ensure your knee support or brace is effective, comfortable to wear and more importantly legal.