If you’ve ever watched a football game, you’ve probably said “ouch” or “that must of hurt” numerous times throughout a game. You may have even seen a player carted off the field. Because of the nature of the game, injuries are rather common amongst football players in all age groups.
As the 2017 professional football season comes to a close following this Sunday’s game, we have been discussing the most popular football injuries that we see in the clinic or as we watch games week-to-week.
So, what are the most common football injuries and how are they treated?
Patellar tendonitis – An overuse injury that affects the knee.
Patellar tendonitis is common in many sports, not just football! The patellar tendon connects the quad muscle group to the lower leg and contains the knee cap (patella). Patellar tendonitis is the result of the patellar tendon being overstressed or overused – makes sense for most athletes! Medical professionals contribute things such as lack of flexibility and lack of overall leg strength to causing patellar tendonitis.
Signs and symptoms include pain while participating in activities such as running, jumping, or descending stairs; tenderness on the anterior part of the knee; stiffness of the knee first thing in the morning, etc. Treatment to help resolve this issue includes: rest, ice, elevation, stretching, and strengthening exercises of the affected lower extremity including the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gatroc.
Concussions – A type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head.
Over the past few years, the topic of concussions has become popular in many sports but perhaps the most common is football. As the game of football becomes more competitive and players more aggressive than previous years (i.e. the years of leather helmets), we have started to see the long-term effects that concussions have on an individual including things like Alzheimer’s, dementia, CTE, depression, etc. In 2015, the NFL reported a total of 271 diagnosed concussions, up 58% since 2014 with 206 diagnosed concussions.
Concussions are not to be taken lightly. As of 2016, the NFL implemented and enforced a new concussion protocol. The league now designates an individual to monitor and investigate concussion incidents. If a team is found guilty of not following the protocol, penalties may ensue.
Some common symptoms and signs of concussion include: headache, confusion, loss of consciousness, moodiness, fatigue, imbalance/unsteadiness, and vomiting. In regards to treatment – physical and mental rest! Reduce activities such as watching television or playing on your phone, take time away from physical activities, etc. You should seek the help of a medical professional and be cleared by them to start regular activities.
Lower back pain
Most people experience some lower back pain in their lifespan, but consider what football players go through: tackling and being tackled; lifting heavy weights in conditioning; compensating for other injuries; and, as linemen both offensive and defensive, carrying extra weight.
If you experience pain in the lower back during activity, muscles spasms, or weakness in the legs, you may be having lower back issues. If the pain lasts longer than three months, this is considered chronic. If the pain does not improve within 72 hours, it is recommended you consult a medical professional. As with many other injuries, some recommended treatments include: rest, ice/heat (whichever helps you feel best), stretching, massage therapy, core strengthening exercises, or anti-inflammatories.
Herniated discs – When the softer central portion of your disc ruptures through the surrounding outer ring known as the annulus fibrosus.
If you are a Dallas fan, you may remember the 2013 season when Tony Romo suffered a back injury known as a herniated disc. Unfortunately, this injury took him out for most of the season. Or, if you are a Patriot fan like some people in our office, you have become very familiar with herniated discs - Rob Gronkowski.
Why are herniated discs so common in football players? Again, it relates to the tackling or being tackled, twisting, and jumping nature of the game. A blow to the back, a fall, twisting while lifting weight (like in tackling) all increase the risk of a herniated disc.
Besides pain in your back, pain in your arms or leg (depending where the herniation occurs), numbness or tingling, or overall weakness are common signs of a herniated disc. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately. You may need to have imaging performed such as x-rays, an MRI, or CT scan to diagnose the problem accurately. Depending on the severity of the herniation, surgery may be recommended.
We’ve all heard of these different tears amongst athletes and football is no different. Think about a running back trying to make a play. He cuts past a defender to get the ball and his knees give out from underneath him. Well, unfortunately, he may have torn his ACL – a ligament responsible for stabilizing the knee. The far less common tear occurs in the PCL because it is a stronger, thicker ligament. MCL injuries occur most commonly when the outside of the knee is hit during a tackle. All of these injuries can range from mild to severe, but often shorten a player’s career.
Similar to herniated discs, depending on the severity of the injury, surgery may be required. Other forms of treatment include physical therapy or rest. If you experience pain, swelling, tenderness, locking of the knee, loss of ability to put weight on your leg, or bruising you should consult a medical professional.
Meniscus – Cartilage in your knee responsible for cushioning and stabilizing the joint.
It’s pretty simple to tear a meniscus. All it takes is twisting of the knee too far for the meniscus to tear. In some instances, a piece of the cartilage breaks loose and catches within the knee joint that then causes the knee to lock. Meniscus tears are extremely common in all contact sports – hence the high likelihood in football. However, meniscus tears are also common in the aging population as the meniscus weakens over time. If you are a Steelers fan, you may have missed Roethlisberger this season after he underwent surgery to repair his meniscus.
Much like other lower extremity injuries, common symptoms include pain in the knee, swelling, popping, difficulty bending and/or straightening of the knee, and, in some scenarios as mentioned above, a tendency to lock.
Shoulder separation/dislocation – The top of the arm bone (humerus) is forced out of the shoulder socket as a result of a fall or hit.
Think of the last time you watched a football game and watched a player slam shoulder first into the turf. Although they go through many strengthening exercises and have padding to help protect their shoulders, there is still chance of separation or dislocation of the shoulder. In some circumstances, surgery is needed. You may be placed in a sling or brace while recovery takes place.
If you experience pain in the shoulder that hurts to move or notice a deformity in the shoulder (a bump), you may have dislocated your shoulder. If you dislocate your shoulder, you need to seek medical attention immediately to have the shoulder put back into place. Once that occurs, you could participate in physical therapy where you may go through a series of range of motion exercises and strengthening exercises.
There are many other injuries that football players, not just NFL players, can face. Things like turf toe, sprained ankles, torn hamstrings, and other forms of tendonitis are not uncommon.
Have questions regarding your injury? Want to find ways to strengthen your body to avoid injury? Feel free to contact us for answers.