Football is a rough sport, regardless of the protective equipment worn. Injuries go with the territory when it comes to this sport. Because the players are big, the game is fast, and the nature is physical, football injuries are quite common. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 1.2 million football injuries each year, and around 50 percent of these injuries occur during training.
Knee and Leg Injuries
The anterior cruciate ligament (the ACL) is the most commonly injured knee ligament. Injury to this ligament occurs when there is a sudden change of direction with running, sudden and abrupt stops and starts, or when landing awkwardly from jumping. A torn ACL in an active young athlete often requires arthroscopic surgery and reconstruction.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament Tears
Injury to the posterior cruciate ligament (the PCL) occurs when an athlete receives a blow to the front of a bent knee or makes a mild misstep on the turf. PCL injuries can also occur from hyperextension of the knee. A torn PCL may also require arthroscopic surgery and reconstruction.
When a football player has torn knee cartilage, it usually is a torn meniscus. The meniscus is a rubbery, tough structure that sits between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (lower leg bone). For athletes, this cartilage acts as a shock absorber. Tears to the meniscus occur with twisting, pivoting, cutting, decelerating, or being tackled. A meniscus tear requires surgical intervention for most cases.
Groin pull refers as the result of a groin (adductor muscle) pull or strain. This condition causes localized pain in the inner thigh or groin region. These injuries occur during sudden direction changes while running and quick starts and stops. Most groin pulls are treated conservatively, with rest and ice therapy followed by stretching, strengthening and a gradual return to activities.
Hamstring Strain and Tear
The hamstring muscles are the power muscles that run down the back of the thigh from the pelvis to the lower leg. These work with the knee flexors for leg motion during running. Injury to any of these muscles can cause a sharp, sudden pain in the back of the thigh. Most hamstring strains resolve without complication. Rarely, large tears near the upper attachment of the hamstrings may require surgical repair.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band is a thick, strong band of fibrous tissue that runs along the outer portion of the leg. Iliotibial band syndrome involves inflammation to this structure. This is a common injury in football players, as the iliotibial band is a stabilizer for running. When overused or irritated, it leads to pain in the outside lateral knee and lower thigh.
Shin splints involve pain of the front aspect of the lower leg along the shin bone (the tibia). The pain is usually felt on the outer front portion of the leg or on the back inside aspect. Shin splints are the result of microtrauma to the soleus muscle at the point of attachment to the tibia. Most football players who get shin splints have recently increased the intensity of impact activities.
Head, Neck and Shoulder Injuries
A concussion is caused by a direct blow to the head. This type of football injury causes some level of impairment of brain function. Symptoms of a concussion include short term memory loss, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Also called a cervical strain, whiplash injuries occur when the athlete’s head and neck snap forward and back in a quick, violent motion. Whiplash causes neck pain, headache, dizziness, shoulder pain, and neck stiffness.
A fracture of the clavicle occurs from a direct impact to the collarbone. A fractured clavicle causes pain, decreased ability to raise the arm, bruising, and redness. In most cases, the clavicle can heal without surgical intervention. In more severe collarbone fractures, the orthopedic surgeon has to realign the bones. To help realign the displaced fragments of bone, the surgeon places a plate and screws along the bone to hold the pieces in position.
Shoulder Separation and Dislocation
A shoulder separation is the tearing or stretching of the ligaments where the shoulder blade (scapula) meets the collarbone (clavicle). When these ligaments are injured, they clavicle can slip forward and disconnect from the scapula. This type of football injury occurs as the result of an impact to the front or outer edge of the shoulder, or from a fall onto an outstretched hand. Shoulder separation causes pain and tenderness, bruising, and swelling. Severe injury results in deformity of the shoulder.
A dislocated shoulder occurs when there is an impact that leads to extreme rotation of the head of the upper arm bone (the humerus). This bone pops out of socket with dislocation and there is pain, swelling, and deformity. Both shoulder separation and an orthopedic specialist for evaluation of these injuries should see shoulder dislocations.
Foot and Ankle Injuries
An ankle sprain is the most common of all ankle injuries. This injury is the result of a stretching and tearing of the ligaments that stabilize the ankle joint. Most sprains can be treated with rest, bracing, ice, compression, and elevation.
Achilles tendonitis is a chronic type of injury that is the result of overuse. If you have this, you will feel pain in the back of the ankle. If this condition is not adequately treated, chronic pain may persist.
Turf toe is an injury to the base of the big toe. Jumping or running on hard surfaces such as the artificial turf causes this injury. Most turf toe resolves with time, and the athlete should rest and use ice therapy.
A football player who falls onto an outstretched hand could suffer a wrist sprain. A sprained wrist involves an injured ligament, the fibrous tissue that holds bones together. Most wrist sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Finger fractures are common among football players. The symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling, decreased range of motion, and deformity. The orthopedic specialist will cast or splint the finger if the break is in alignment. It may be necessary for the doctor perform surgery to properly align the bones.
Tendonitis of the wrist is swelling and irritation of the tissue which surrounds the tendons of the thumb and fingers. The most common symptom is pain in the front aspect of the wrist. Bruising and swelling are also likely. If treated soon and appropriately, these injuries improve without deformity or disability.
Muscle Strains of the Back
A strain is injury to a muscle or tendon. Most back strains occur from overuse or simple missteps. The symptoms include pain, tenderness, decreased mobility, and swelling. Back strains are treated with rest and ice therapy.
A herniated disc is a serious back injury. These occur with lifting type movements but can result from direct blows to the back. Herniated disc rarely require surgical repair, as most will resolve with a period of rest and rehabilitation. The symptoms of a herniated disc include back pain, leg pain, swelling, loss of mobility, and bruising.