Football is one of the world’s most beloved sports, with players of all ages taking part at all levels. But, like all sports, the potential for injury is there. It shouldn’t put you off playing, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind as many of the injury risks football presents are preventable.
If you don’t fancy sitting out for a few matches in recovery, it’s important to stay aware of the risks and how to prevent them. Keep the pitch safe for all with our handy guide.
Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament
Your knee relies heavily on your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). However, it’s often damaged by the twisting and turning of the leg, which means it’s a common injury for football players. If you hurt your ACL, it’ll be painful and you’ll likely see swelling around the area. But before then, you may hear and feel it pop or snap…
Strengthening you leg muscles is a great way to avoid injuring your ACL. According to HSS, Hospital for Special Surgery, you should do plenty of leg stretches like squats and walking lunges. Having good balance — or proprioception — is vital if you want to avoid injuring your ACL too, so practice standing on one leg (30 seconds on each) regularly to boost your stability. These exercises also help prevent injuries to your menisci, which are cartilages that protect the knee joint.
The long muscle stretching from your hip to your thigh is your hamstring. Sometimes your hamstring muscles can overstretch, resulting in pain at the back of the leg, as well as potentially bruising and swelling. If you tear your hamstring, you could be out of action for a while, however, if you simply pull your hamstring, you should be fine to continue.
Swelling and pain are key symptoms of a hamstring injury. Reportedly, people with existing back issues are more susceptible to strained hamstrings, so to avoid this injury, loosen your back with exercises such as lumbar rotation stretches (lying on the floor and rolling your knees from side to side). Basic glute stretches will ease muscles around your hips, while yoga will help you stay flexible, which will lower the risk of hamstring strain. Squats, lunges and hamstring kicks are also great preventative exercises, as they work to strengthen the hamstring muscles.
Need a way to prevent this injury? Try doing the Nordic ham curl:
- Kneel on the floor.
- Hook your feet under something sturdy and heavy that can take your weight or ask a partner to hold your feet to act as an anchor.
- Breathe deeply, engage your core and slowly lower yourself to the ground, using your hamstrings to keep your body straight.
- After reaching the ground, push yourself up and repeat.
A groin strain
When tackling or reaching for the ball, there’s a chance you might end up over-stretching, which in turn, can injure your groin. If you strain your groin, you’ve basically over-extended your abductor muscles, found in your inner thigh. A slight strain will often cause some pain, however, serious groin strain injuries can impede on your ability to walk and run, which is a serious flaw for a football player.
A good way to prevent the risk of this injury is to make sure you do a good warm-up. Make sure you stretch your inner and outer thigh muscles daily and see if you can also get regular sports therapy or massage treatments to keep these muscles flexible. A strong core enhances pelvic stability, which will also reduce the chance of groin strains, so do plenty of planks and crunches as part of your basic workout routine. Resistance bands are also very handy for strengthening your inner thigh muscles and preventing groin strain.
A sprained ankle
A sprained ankle is when the soft tissue is damaged. According to the CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), approximately 70-85% of these injuries are ‘inversion’ sprains, which means the ankle has been turned inwards — common when tackling and dribbling the ball. If you’re looking to reduce the risk of a sprained ankle, try and do these exercises three times a week:
- Calf raises.
- Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).
- Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
Making sudden, lurching moves during football can increase the likelihood of sustaining an injury. According to a scientific study, taking part in a structured warm-up is effective at stopping players from suffering common football injuries and can reportedly even lower these by approximately 33%.
Getting the blood flowing to your muscles prepares them for these movements. Here’s a top warm-up session to help you prepare your tendons, ligaments and muscles for a good performance:
- 5 minutes: jogging and side-stepping to boost your core temperature.
- 15 minutes: stretching, focusing on your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, lower back, calves, Achilles tendon, and hip flexors. You should hold your stretch for ten seconds every time.
- 10 minutes: mimicking football movements without a ball including high kicks, squats, jumps, and side-foot passes.
- 10 minutes: practicing shooting, heading, passing, and dribbling as a team with a football.
Your food choices also impact your chances of injury. Eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates — including eggs, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, turkey and salmon — to build muscle and deliver energy. Also, lower your alcohol intake — it dehydrates you and leaves your muscles more susceptible to cramping and injury.
Supplements can also be a good safety net. For example, vitamin D and vitamin D3 can help strengthen your bones and muscles, according to some scientific studies, while ginkgo biloba supplements can help with blood circulation.
Warm-up well and eat smart to make sure you’re not caught out with a preventable injury this season.