American Football Injuries

American football injuries

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 armor and protective headgear the players wear as a mandatory standard.


Common American football injuries

Here we explain some of the more 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.

Hamstring strain

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.

Read more on pulled hamstring.

ACL sprain

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 sprains

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 strain

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 rotator cuff strain.

Ankle Sprain

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 severe injury could result in hospital treatment and take longer to heal than a broken ankle.

Read more on ankle sprain.

Achilles Tendonitis

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 Achilles tendonitis.

Jumpers knee

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 Jumper’s knee.

Shin splints

Shin Splints is the common term used to refer to symptomatic pain in the front of the lower leg. Medically known as tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are aggravating to the sufferer and impede upon athletic ability. However, the correct treatment and rehabilitation ensure a full recovery.

Read more on 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 American football injuries

The PRICE principles are the gold standard set for treating acute sports injuries.  The acronym 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 nonmedical 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.

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