Footballers suffer more injuries than in just about any other sport. Most are caused by colliding with other players or landing awkwardly from a jump. Roughly a quarter of injuries are due to overuse and develop gradually over time. So, what can players (and their concerned parents!) do to protect themselves from getting injured?
Most footballing soft issue injuries are self-limiting and will settle with appropriate initial management and advice, often with the help of physiotherapy.
Any injuries that do not settle or cause weakness relating to further injury, should be reviewed and investigated by an orthopaedic specialist.
Common football injuries
Here are some of the most common footballing injuries and some tips for staying safe on the pitch.
Older players are more likely to get injured than their younger counterparts and there is a greater prevalence of injury during competitive matches compared to training sessions. So even more care needs to be taken as you clock the years!
Hamstring muscle strains are incredibly common in football and arise when the muscles are forcibly stretched beyond their limits, resulting in a tear. A tear in the muscle is referred to as a strain and is categorised as a first, second or third degree strain – first degree being the most mild form of strain and third degree the most severe. One of the most effective ways of preventing Hamstring injuries is to make sure you warm up properly before playing. The warm-up should last at least 20 minutes, starting gently and working up to full pace activity.
If you suffer a Hamstring injury, apply the RICE protocol:
You will need to get checked out by a GP or specialist doctor, or a physiotherapist. Depending on the severity of the strain, you may need to avoid playing for between two weeks and three months.
A sprained ankle occurs when the ankle is twisted inwards resulting in damage to the soft tissue, mainly the ligaments and also sometimes the capsule that surrounds the ankle joint. Taping and bracing the ankle can help to reduce the risk of sprained ankles significantly. If a player has instability in the ankles, using a wobble board can help to strengthen the area and reduce the risk of injury.
If you sprain your ankle during a game, think PRICE:
Be careful to avoid placing ice directly onto unprotected skin.
Knee Cartilage Tear
Each knee joint has two menisci, which are tough fibrocartilage that protect the joint as it bends. When the knee bends correctly the thigh bone rolls on the top surface of the shin bone. If there is a rotating movement, however, the menisci can get jammed between the two bones and a tear can result. This will result in pain and swelling. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to prevent knee cartilage tears other than ensuring you have strong Hamstring muscles and Quadriceps.
If you do suffer a cartilage tear, treatment will depend on the severity of the tear. A small tear may self limit and settle.
More severe tears may require surgery to either repair or remove the torn fibrocartilage.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) lies deep in the knee joint, connecting the thigh bone with the shin bone. The ligament can be damaged by landing on a knee that is over-extended or if an opponent’s weight crushes the knee. Evidence suggests that the best way to prevent injury is to use a wobble board to improve single leg stance ability and balance.
All ACL injuries require the opinion of an orthopaedic consultant. It is important to apply the PRICE protocol (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and not to walk too much on the injured leg.
Groin strain is also common in footballers and if you are playing regularly this could certainly impact your performance and enjoyment of the game.
Osteitis Pubis is a common cause of groin pain. It is caused by an instability of the pelvic bones and whilst overuse is typically key to this condition, a specific incident may mean symptoms become more severe.
It is usual that these injuries need to be investigated by an orthopaedic specialist.