Robert J. Snyder, MD
It is almost August and many young males across the United States are getting ready for football season to start. Once considered a seasonal sport, football players of all ages now train for football year round, opening the door wider for injury. In the NFL, 300 pound men routinely collide with each other again and again, sometimes at top speed, seeking the coveted Lombardi trophy of the Super Bowl. Every week, multiple players are sidelined with sometimes career-ending musculoskeletal injuries.
Only a tiny percentage of athletes will ever be good enough to play in the NFL, but tell that to your son, or hundreds of thousands of young men like him, whose only dream is to play for the Redskins, Patriots or Cowboys. Year after year, season after season, he will train, practice, suit up, play football and possibly get injured, all in pursuit of that dream.
What are the orthopaedic injuries that football players most commonly have and how do we prevent them? Knee, shoulder, neck and back injuries are the most reported issues, but toes, fingers, elbows, collarbones, wrists, are all frequently injured. If you can name a body part, it can be injured in football. Maybe except hair!
Most football injuries fall into two categories: traumatic or overuse. Traumatic injuries are those that happen suddenly during play or practice, like a fracture, spinal injury, sprain or strain, tendon, ligament or muscle tear. Overuse injuries occur over time, like tendinitis, or back pain, when the athlete does not allow sufficient time for trauma to heal before playing again.
Since football injuries are so prevalent, wouldn’t it make better sense to stop them from occurring in the first place? Of course, we will never be able to make football completely safe, but I have some suggestions for athletes of all ages to prevent traumatic and overuse injuries. Here are my top ten tips:
- Stay fit through the summer break
- Incorporate strength training year round
- Wear properly fitted and maintained football safety equipment
- Warm up, stretch and cool down before and after practice and games
- Use proper technique during workouts
- Use proper technique for the position you play, i.e., not leading with the head and looking down during tackles
- Get a professional trainer to work with you on proper body mechanics and a training routine to improve performance
- Allow the body sufficient time to rest and repair between workouts and games
- Wear support bracing or taping during exertion
- Don’t play through an injury – even if you are tempted. Get medical assistance and allow your body to heal OR a minor injury could turn into a major one.
Stay safe as you train and work hard, not only to make the team, but to prevent injuries that can sideline you from the sport you love. And GO ARMY! (my alma mater)