Being an athlete can be incredibly rewarding. The competition brings out perseverance, and it can often stimulate someone to work hard at something they love.
But as many athletes know, playing competitive sports comes with a bit of risk. And when it comes to contact sports like football, injuries tend to be much more common than you may think.
Our orthopedic specialists at Rothman see a wide array of injuries as a result of football, but some are more frequent than others. As we approach the end of the season, here are 5 of the most common injuries that come from playing football.
1: MCL Sprain (or Tear)
If you’re a football fan, or even a sports fan in general, you’ve probably heard the term thrown around a lot. And there's a reason for that – a sprained MCL is one of the more commonplace injuries across all sports, and particularly frequent in football. In fact, a study conducted on players in the NFL found that MCL tears are the third most common of any injury type in the sport. But why?
The MCL, or medial collateral ligament, is the band of tissue that runs along the inside of your knee. This tissue is one of four ligaments that help stabilize the knee, allowing you to bend, pivot, and change direction quickly and easily.
This range of motion is very important when you consider that football is about stopping the person with the ball at all costs. And because almost all of our mobility comes from the legs, players are taught to attack them when trying to stop the ball carrier. Incidentally, that tends to put a runner’s knees in harm’s way throughout the game.
Well, the MCL is there to keep your knee from bending inward (or, if it’s easier to think of this way, to prevent your foot from going away from the midline). However, when the knee is bent inward with more force than it can handle, that often leads to an MCL sprain, or even a tear. One of the easiest ways to injure your MCL in this way is to receive direct contact to the outside of the lower thigh or knee, which forces your knee to collapse. If you’re questioning whether you may have an MCL tear or sprain, review these symptoms to see if they match yours:
MCL Sprain Symptoms
· A popping or tearing sensation along the inside of the knee
· Reduced range of motion
· Pain when putting weight on the knee
2: ACL & PCL Injuries
As the two most significant anchors in a stable knee, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) are some of the most serious tears sustained in sports, and particularly common in high-speed contact sports like football and soccer.
The ACL stops the tibia (shin bone) from sliding in front of (anterior to) the femur (thigh bone), while the PCL prevents the tibia from sliding posterior to (behind) the femur. The two ligaments cross at the knee, allowing it to bend and extend while keeping the surrounding bone structure in a stabilized position. Yet because the PCL is bigger and stronger than the ACL, the ACL is more likely to have a complete tear.
Though an ACL tear is the most common injury in football, it actually rarely occurs because of contact – normally it’s caused by an unexpected change in direction where the player exerts too much force on the knee at an awkward angle.
Interestingly, while it’s very common in professional football leagues like the NFL, women are two to seven times more likely to injure their ACL due to some of the structural and anatomical differences they have from men. A tear of the ACL usually requires the player to undergo surgery in order to return to the sport, and can take about 9-12 months to heal properly.
ACL and PCL Injury Symptoms
Though your orthopedic specialist will be able to differentiate between ACL and PCL tear symptoms, the two injuries share similar indications to the untrained eye:
· Difficulty walking
· A defined pop at the moment of injury
· Rapid swelling of the knee
· Instability of the knee
· Mild to severe pain
3: Foot and Ankle Injuries
From a broken ankle to turf toe, foot and ankle injuries are very frequent in football. So much so in fact, that some coaches make it mandatory for players to wear certain types of cleats as a way of protecting them from getting hurt.
Unlike some ligament-related injuries like the ones mentioned above, most foot and ankle injuries come as a direct result of being tackled or hit with a lot of force, specifically when running, jumping, or falling.
It’s not just skill positions that get hurt in this way either – offensive and defensive lineman are very prone to foot and ankle injuries due to the nature of the position. When you’re in the “trenches,” lots of bodies tend to be piled together in one area, which can cause players to lose their balance or be pushed back in a way that’s unnatural. This often leads to players falling on top of one another, leaving the ankle and feet vulnerable to heavy amounts of weight being dropped on them, usually at an awkward angle.
While wearing properly-sized cleats (or footwear) is a great way to help you prevent foot and ankle injuries, there are a few others that can have a significant impact on your ability to stay in the game. Regularly stretching before and after playing, for example, gives your muscles and joints a chance to warm-up to the range of motion they can expect to deal with during the game. Also, you want to avoid uneven surfaces –- holes in the ground, bumpy terrain, etc.
However, if you still find yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms after a particular play or event, it’s always best to see a doctor as soon as possible:
Symptoms of Feet and Ankle Injuries
· Immediate swelling in the affected area
· Mild/severe pain
· Inability to put weight on your foot
Be sure to use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for initial treatment while you wait to see an orthopedic specialist.
4: Shoulder Injuries
Even with an entire stack of padding to protect the players against them, football players are still very prone to sustaining shoulder injuries.
Whether you’re a quarterback or safety, the hard-hitting nature of the sport lends itself to stiff contact with the ground, which can lead to a plethora of strains, pains, fractures, and aches. And those pains can mean any number of things, depending on where the pain is stemming from.
The shoulder is one of the most complicated parts of the body, simply because of how many moving parts are involved. Having strong tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the shoulder and back can be the difference between shoulder stability and excessive injury. From rotator cuff injuries to shoulder separations and more, there are a long list of problems that can arise due to blunt force or awkward angling of an athlete’s shoulder.
Some of the most common shoulder injuries include:
· Shoulder Sprain
· Dislocated Shoulder
· Shoulder Separation (AC Joint Sprain)
· Torn Rotator Cuff
Seeing an orthopedic specialist is key to proper diagnosis and recovery following any one of these injuries.
5: Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries are some of the more recurrent injuries in sports overall, but particularly in football.
Because football requires the use of the entire body, each of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments tend to be put under some level of stress on nearly every play. And due to that constant stress, players can occasionally over-exert or strain these soft tissues in a way that leads to injury, such as a torn ligament or plantar fasciitis . Even overworking a certain muscle or tendon can cause a player to suffer from what is known as an overuse injury, such as tendinitis or a stress fracture.
Soft tissue injuries are some of the hardest to rehab from due to the nature of tendons and ligaments. Treatment often involves some form of physical therapy to strengthen the weak tissue, which in some cases can be rather painful, depending on the severity of the injury and the type of tissue being repaired. That’s why it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible when you find that you may have sustained a soft tissue injury.
Doctors can usually diagnose and treat soft tissue injuries based on symptoms alone, but depending on the type of injury, an MRI or x-ray may be required. Symptoms will vary based on the location and severity of the injury.
Think you have one of these injuries? Start at Rothman Orthopaedics.
Rothman Orthopaedics is the leading provider of orthopedic care in the region, offering world-class care for athletes around the country across all sports. If you or a teammate are dealing with any of these injuries, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our specialists today.