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Sport Specific Injuries: Football

Even though I have four daughters, football is a big deal in my family. We love to watch college teams (of course, our favorite is BSU), and while I admit I’m not a huge fan of the NFL, I do like to cheer for the Packers (I’m a shareholder, after all). I have been an assistant varsity football coach, and Idaho Physical Therapy used to provide the training services for the Idaho Stallions. Because of the sport’s high injury rate, we were kept pretty busy during the season. It’s the nature of the game.

Although serious injuries (ones involving permanent disability or death) are extremely rare, football is among the top three sports responsible for emergency room visits. Football injuries fall into only two categories – acute (sudden) and chronic (long term) – but they can be experienced from head to toe and have a wide variety of presentations. Here are some of the more common:

Foot/Ankle: Besides your garden variety ankle sprain, athletes may find themselves with plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis – both symptoms of overuse. Turf toe (the affectionate name for a sprain of the big toe) is another notorious football ailment.

Knee/Leg: Pulled muscles (often in the hamstring and groin areas) are extremely common. Shin splints can be a nuisance, especially if not treated right away, and every once in a while, a player may even break their leg. But the injury most feared by many football players is one to the knee. A tear in the meniscus (cartilage on the side of the knee) or of a ligament (usually the ACL or PCL) can mean a season spent on the sidelines.

Shoulder/Elbow/Wrist/Hand: Sprained or broken wrists and dislocated or broken fingers are par for the course. Shoulders may become separated or dislocated during a hard hit, and quarterbacks may experience tendonitis in their shoulders and elbows.

Hip/Back: Hip flexor tendonitis can be a chronic problem, but hip pointers (a bone bruise of the hip bone) are an acute, painful condition. Full-contact sports also put the back at risk for many issues, such as strains, muscle pulls, and herniated disks.

Neck/Head: Concussions and neck strains are the most common worries for these areas, but “burners” and “stingers” (a sudden compression of the brachial plexus, the nerves exiting the spinal column) can become worrisome if they’re a frequent problem. Also eyes may be injured if fingers slip through face masks.

Injury prevention in football is a constant strategy game; for a player to go an entire season without any ailments is considered a minor miracle. Therefore there is much you can do to protect your athlete:

• Insure your player is physically mature enough for the level of football they will be playing (teams should be matched by size and skill). Touch football is safest for very young players.
• Make sure your player has the proper equipment and that it is fitted correctly and in good condition. The helmet is the most important aspect of this. If your athlete can remove their helmet with one hand, it does not fit appropriately. Helmets shouldn’t be too tight, but it should be secure enough that they have to use both hands to get it off.
• Always use proper technique when blocking and tackling, and follow game rules, especially the ones created for safety’s sake.
• Because the game is so intense, athletes should condition themselves year round. In addition to basic cardio, strength, and flexibility training, athletes should prepare their bodies for the sudden demands of the sport. Plyometrics, calisthenics, and agility training are recommended.
• Don’t ignore injuries, even minor ones. Football players like to be tough, but all pain means something. Treat small injuries with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and see your physical therapist or doctor for all moderate or higher injuries, or for minor injuries that don’t improve within seven days.

Whether you’re watching or playing, football season is a wonderful time of year filled with fun and excitement (and hopefully nachos). Stay safe and have a great season! Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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