Football is revered as one of America’s greatest pastimes. The end of summer brings the start of practices, backyard pickup games, and thousands of players strapping on their pads and marching onto the field in preparation for the fall season.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of the most common football injuries by position and how you can prevent them.
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Quarterbacks take a lot of hits and do a lot of throwing, so it comes as no surprise that their injuries affect both their arms and their legs.
Quarterback injuries include:
This is usually caused by a weak/unstable scapula (the bone that supports the back, needed to avoid extra pressure on the labrum and the rotator cuff). These injuries can be prevented by doing exercises that strengthen and mobilize the scapula, including pillow presses and wall sits
This is usually caused by a quarterback’s training regimen. Bicep tendonitis can be prevented by avoiding curls and bench presses, which cause inward rotation of the shoulders. This leads to a slightly hunched look and puts extra pressure on the biceps and rotator cuffs. By focusing on pulling exercises like chin-ups and inverted rows, quarterbacks can open up their posture. Using dumbbells instead of barbells can also be a safer alternative for quarterbacks, as they allow the shoulders to rotate.
Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) strain/tear
The UCL is the ligament that runs along the inside of the elbow. Strains or tears to the UCL generally result from improper throwing mechanics. When the arm is cocked back waiting for release, make sure the elbow is at a 90 degree angle. Upon release of the ball, your arm should be at ear level with a slight bend in the elbow. Proper mechanics are an important part of preventing injuries in all sports.
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Common Injuries for Wide Receivers and Running Backs
Wide receivers and running backs experience similar injuries. Many of these can be career-halting and extremely painful.
Wide receiver and running back injuries include:
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, running along the back of the leg from the calf to the heel. Strain caused by overuse can result in swelling and aching in the tendon. Sometimes, if the Achilles tendon tears, surgery is required to repair it. Symptoms of an Achilles tendon strain include:
- Pain in the heel
- Warmth in the tendon
- Trouble standing
Treatment can include ice, rest, and physical therapy to strengthen and improve stability. Wrapping the heel or wearing a brace also can help keep the tendon stabilize. Recovery from surgery, if necessary, can take three to six months and will likely involve specialized physical therapy to ensure a full recovery and return-to-play.
High ankle sprains occur when the ankle and the foot roll outward, causing a sprain in the syndesmotic ligament. These can be difficult to diagnose due to the small amount of swelling that occurs. Other symptoms include:
- Inability to walk
- Severe pain
- Significant bruising
- Minor swelling
- Pain when you try to rotate the ankle outward
A high ankle sprain can be diagnosed through an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Depending on the severity of the sprain, different treatment methods may be used.
- For less severe sprains, the P.R.I.C.E. method (protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation, also known as the R.I.C.E. method) is effective. Sometimes, a splint, cast, brace, and crutches are needed.
- For more severe cases, surgery with the placement of two screws to help the ligaments heal together may be required. There is usually a six-month recovery time following this surgery.
High ankle sprains can be prevented in a few simple ways:
- Stretching properly before and after exercise
- Taking it slow when starting new exercises
- Wrapping or taping your ankle if you’ve had a previous ankle injury
Hamstring injuries occur when you strain or pull one of the three muscles that run along the back of your thigh. Usually this strain happens when the hamstring muscles are stretched beyond their normal capacity.
How do you know if you have a hamstring injury?
- A hamstring injury can cause a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh
- You may also experience a “popping” or tearing sensation
- Swelling and tenderness occurs within the next few hours
- You can also experience mild bruising and tenderness/inability to walk on the injured leg.
Hamstring injuries are among the most common injuries in athletes, not just football players. Hamstring injuries can often be prevented through proper stretching.
The most common knee injuries include those involving the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). ACL injuries can be caused by changing directions rapidly or landing harshly. To diagnose an ACL injury your physician will likely take a medical history, do a physical examination, and schedule an MRI.
In most cases, surgery is needed to repair an ACL injury and give an athlete the best chance for returning to their sport. The ACL is usually replaced with the patellar tendon — located in the front of the knee. This is because the ACL itself is too fragile to actually “repair.” Recovery varies, as does a full return-to-sport, but often takes six to nine months, including specialized physical therapy, to regain movement and strength, as well as to prevent re-injury.
PCL injuries are typically less severe than ACL injuries. They usually occur when there is a blow to the front of the knee while the leg is bent. PCL injuries are often partial tears with the potential to heal on their own. Many people don’t even realize they have a PCL injury, attributing any symptoms to a minor knee injury. PCL injuries are diagnosed through physical examination and in some cases an X-ray or MRI. Treatment may include:
- R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method
- Gentle stretching
Common Injuries for Kickers
Kickers experience injuries caused by the strain they put on their legs.
Hip flexor strains
Your hip flexors are a group of muscles that help flex the femur bone and pull the knee upward. Hip flexor strains are one of the most common injuries for kickers. Causes include can include over-working or not enough rest. Common symptoms of hip flexor injuries include:
- Pain when pressing on the hip flexor
- Feeling of constantly needed to stretch
- Constantly needing to ice your hip for relief
If kickers are experiencing any of these symptoms the R.I.C.E. method and a physician’s consultation may be necessary. If left untreated, hip flexor injuries can sometimes require surgery to repair. Kickers who want to prevent hip injuries should focus on strengthening the hip and making sure they are properly stretching before and after activities.
A groin injury typically means you did something to your adductor or abductor muscles. The only way to heal a groin injury is by following the R.I.C.E. method and giving your body time to heal. Groin injuries can be prevented by
- Stretching properly before kicking
- Stretching to loosen up muscles
- Warming up for a reasonable length of time
Another way to prevent groin injuries is to strengthen your core muscles to take some of the pressure off of the groin muscles. This can be achieved through exercises that work your lower abs, lower back, and obliques.
The patellar tendon is the tendon that runs from your kneecap down towards your tibia. Injuries to this tendon result from repeated pressure on the tendon/knee, usually as a result of repeated jamming of the plant foot. Patellar tendonitis can be prevented by
- Wearing proper shoes
- Stretching beforehand
- Avoiding jamming your plant foot down
The quadriceps are made up of four major muscles
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus intermedius
Kickers experience quadriceps pulls when they “overload” their legs. Overloading can occur when a kicker is first learning how to kick, or has not been properly conditioned. The sudden overexertion of your quadriceps, especially in athletes who are not used to using these muscles, can lead to strains and pulls. If you injure your quadriceps, treatment may include:
- Rest, including a break from kicking/punting for a few days
- Gentle massage
If you are nervous about straining your quadriceps or want to avoid re-injury, there are preventive measures you can take:
- Ask your coach or athletic trainer to tape your leg with kinesio tape or an ACE bandage to create tight compression, which will help keep the muscles in place and stop any unnecessary movement.
- Make sure you are always wearing some type of compression shorts, even if you are just working out in the backyard. This will help keep your muscles warm and prevent further injuries.
Find more information on football training and common injuries at UPMCSportsMedicine.com. To learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine experts and services, including physician appointments and performance training, please call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) or visit UPMCSportsMedicine.com.
About Sports Medicine
Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.