A Football Season Like Never Before: How to Minimize Injury Risk During This Atypical Season

Brandon J. Erickson, MD September 10th, 2020

As our opening game of the season creeps closer, we have finished 2-a-day workouts and are in the last week of game prep before opening up on the road against Georgia Tech. I am running a crossing route, doing my best to emulate what Calvin Johnson will be doing against our defense this season (my best and what Calvin Johnson can do really shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence, so my apologies), when I take a good hit from our middle linebacker. 

Unfortunately, my foot stayed planted and my body spun, so I sustained a dislocated and broken ankle. Fortunately, our team orthopaedist was at practice and had me in the operating room in no time and did an excellent job fixing my ankle so I was able to return to football in a few months. The injury cost me most of my junior season at Notre Dame, but was the jumping off point for my career in orthopaedics, so the silver lining was pretty significant. This type of high-speed contact injury, unfortunately, cannot easily be prevented. 

However, there are many football injuries such as hamstring strains, muscle cramps and others where the risk of injury can be minimized with proper training and a few tips and tricks. This football season will look very different than many others, and if you are in an area where football and other sports are permitted, it’s important to remember how different the off season and summer has been. 

Most players have not had the normal opportunity for off season workouts, practices and scrimmages up to this point, and their bodies may be underprepared for the stresses of game competition. There are some simple strategies to help prepare yourself for game competition, thereby decreasing your risk of injury. 

First, conditioning is critical. While getting in shape for games takes months, adding on extra conditioning at the end of practice or earlier in the day can help get your muscles ready for games. You want to try to condition and train a hard as you play (although this is, admittedly, very difficult) so that when you are in a game situation your body is not exposed to more stress than it can handle or than it is used to. This will help minimize the risk of muscle strains during games (hamstring, groin, etc.). 

A second way to help minimize muscle strains is to stretch well before, during and after games. At Notre Dame we spent quite some time performing a thorough stretch and warm-up/activation routine to help our bodies get ready for games. Stretching during time outs and when you are on the sideline will help keep the muscles loose. 

Third, hydration is key when preparing for a game. While it is important to stay hydrated with water and the occasional sports drink during games, it is essential to hydrate well in the days prior to a game. Furthermore, you should make sure you are drinking enough water on gameday and not simply pouring it over your head. I was always taught you want to put the gas inside the gas tank, not on the side of the car. Staying well hydrated will minimize the risk of muscle cramps, especially towards the 3rd and 4th quarter. Similarly, ensuring you are eating a well-balanced diet is also important.

Combat Inflammation
Finally, helping to minimize post-exercise inflammation is important to ensure a speedy recovery following games. Cold therapy such as an ice bath can minimize muscle damage and lead to a faster recovery. Incorporating turmeric (either in pill form or using the spice) into your diet as well as tart cherry juice can also help decrease inflammation and speed recovery. Many teams now employ nutritionists to maximize the benefits of proper diets as our understanding of the importance of diet and hydration has grown. 

While this football season will present a multitude of challenges on and off the field, making sure you stay healthy enough to remain on the field is of paramount importance. Proper conditioning, stretching, hydration and minimizing muscle damage are all important ways to help decrease injury risk. Best of luck this season!

Dr. Erickson is a Sports Medicine Surgeon and with a special interest in shoulder, elbow and knee injuries to athletes and non-athletes alike. He sees patients in Manhattan and Westchester County, NY. For more information or to make an appointment please visit www.RothmanNY.com or call 888-636-7840.

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