Carla L. Matthews, MHSA, M.ED
Johns Hopkins University – School of Medicine
Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
Football is one of the most popular sports played by young athletes, and it leads all other sports in the number of injuries sustained. In 2007, more than 920,000 athletes under the age of 18 were treated in emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and clinics for football-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Injuries occur during football games and practice due to the combination of high speeds and full contact. While overuse injuries can occur, traumatic injuries such as concussions are most common. The force applied to either bringing an opponent to the ground or resisting being brought to the ground makes football players prone to injury anywhere on their bodies, regardless of protective equipment.
Knee injuries in football are the most common, especially those to the anterior or posterior cruciate ligament (ACL/PCL) and to the menisci (cartilage of the knee). ACL injuries are common in all sports, but football players deal with these quite a bit. The anterior cruciate ligament provides 90% of the leg’s stability and is essential to dynamic movement. ACLs often tear because of quick changes in direction, something most athletes have to deal with. These knee injuries can adversely affect a player’s long-term involvement in the sport. Football players also have a higher chance of ankle sprains due to the surfaces played on and cutting motions. Shoulder injuries are also quite common and the labrum (cartilage bumper surrounding the socket part of the shoulder) is particularly susceptible to injury, especially in offensive and defensive linemen. In addition, injuries to the acromioclavicular joint (ACJ) or shoulder are seen in football players.
Football players are very susceptible to concussions. A concussion is a change in mental state due to a traumatic impact. Not all those who suffer a concussion will lose consciousness. Some signs that a concussion has been sustained are headache, dizziness, and nausea, loss of balance, drowsiness, numbness /tingling, difficulty concentrating, and blurry vision. The athlete should return to play only when a health care professional grants clearance.
Low-back pain, or back pain in general, is a common complaint in football players due to overuse. Overuse can also lead to overtraining syndrome, when a player trains beyond the ability for the body to recover. Patellar tendinitis (knee pain) is a common problem that football players develop and can usually be treated by a quadriceps-strengthening program.
HOW CAN FOOTBALL INJURIES BE PREVENTED?
Have a pre-season health and wellness evaluation • Perform proper warm-up and cool-down routines • Consistently incorporate strength training and stretching • Hydrate adequately to maintain health and minimize cramps • Stay active during summer break to prepare for return to sports in the fall • Wear properly fitted protective equipment, such as a helmet, pads, and mouth guard • Tackle with the head up and do not lead with the helmet • Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about injuries or prevention strategies
(This column is only designed to give you a broad spectrum of common orthopedic injuries. It should not be used as a diagnostic tool. You should always refer your pain and/or injuries to a board certified orthopedic physician for further evaluation.)