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  • Reduce Risk of Football Head Injuries

    Reduce Risk of Football Head Injuries

    It has long been recognized that head injuries must be prevented to ensure future health, and throughout the years, governing bodies have worked toward reducing the number of injuries reported. Helmets have been required since 1939; new and more restrictive safety guidelines have been added periodically in the following years.

    More recently, the risk of concussion has been highlighted. The NCAA estimates that concussions account for 7.4% of all football injuries and is actively working to reduce that number further. In this article, we highlight concussions and other head injuries, and offer some advice on how to prevent these injuries from occurring.

    Head Injuries

    Head injuries typically occur to football players in the most vulnerable parts of the head and face – primarily the mouth, eyes, and brain.

    Mouth injuries come in a variety of forms, but are all typically due to sudden unexpected impact with either another player or the ground. Injuries could take the form of broken teeth, torn lips, cheek, gums, or tongue, and even the more serious dislocated or broken jaw.

    Because of this wide variety of potential injuries, the American Dental Association urges the mandatory use of properly fitted football mouthguards in all sports involving bodily contact- including football. Mouthguards cover the teeth of at least the upper jaw and in some cases both the upper and lower. They reduce chipping and fractures of the teeth, protect vulnerable tissue from laceration by tooth edges, reduce the likelihood of fracturing the jaw, and provide protection for toothless spaces.

    The eyes are also vulnerable and at risk for serious injury. In football, the greatest risk is from accidental (or in cases of particular animosity, intentional) gouging by the fingers of opposing players. Luckily, the protection afforded by rule changes making it illegal to intentionally place hands on the face and by the requirement of helmets with face guards greatly reduce the risk of serious eye injury. For added protection, some players choose to use a visor or eye shield.

    Concussions have recently been making headlines as a brutal “hidden” injury in football. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a violent blow to the head. These injuries are especially common on the line, where huge defensive and offensive lineman make violent head-first collisions on almost every down. A concussion occurs when a blow shifts the brain and forcefully presses it against the skull. This injury may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, memory loss, confusion, and terrible headaches. It has become a greater concern of late because of studies showing that repeated concussions may encourage dementia and depression as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

    Unfortunately, with the violent nature of the game, it is difficult to prevent concussions. Leagues are taking steps to reduce the likelihood of these injuries, particularly through rule changes to reduce collisions with the head and more stringent protective gear requirements. At a personal level, it is important that every player makes sure his helmet fits properly and intentionally avoids situations that may result in a blow to the head.

  • Reduce Risk of Football Shoulder Injuries

    Reduce Risk of Football Shoulder Injuries

    As perhaps the most consistently violent spectator sport, it should be no surprise that football is the most likely sport to result in injury. The sport is played at a high speed among high-strength individuals, and every play ends with at least one violent collision. The NCAA estimates the overall (practice and games combined) injury rate of football at 8.1 per 1,000 exposures.

    Upper limb injuries account for 16.9% of these. Although less common than lower limb injuries such as knee and ankle sprains, upper body injuries are still a serious concern amongst football players. In this article, we look at the most common types of shoulder injuries players must prepare themselves for and try to make a few suggestions as to how they might be prevented.


    Shoulder Separation

    Shoulder injuries are quite common in most contact sports, and football is no exception. A shoulder separation is a common, generally milder, injury of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. In this injury, the ligaments connecting the shoulder blade to the collarbone tear, leaving those particular bones separated. This severely limits shoulder joint movement and can sideline a player for anywhere from just a few weeks up to a few months based on the severity of the injury (whether a sprain or a full separation). It typically occurs during a hard collision directly impacting the shoulder or due to an awkward fall (such as a receiver landing on his shoulder after an acrobatic catch).


    Dislocated Shoulder

    A more serious injury that most people have heard of (if only due to the fairly gruesome images that the name conjures) is the dislocated shoulder. When a shoulder is dislocated, the bone of the upper arm pops out of the socket which it typically rests in. This occurs as a result of damage to ligaments near where the top of the shoulder blade meets the end of the clavicle. A shoulder dislocation may occur as the result of a particularly forceful blow from contact or a fall, particularly when the force is directed such that it pushes the arm out of the joint. A dislocated shoulder can permanently reduce stability of the joint, making re-injury a very serious concern.


    Prevention

    Since these shoulder injuries are typically due to blunt trauma, they can be difficult to prevent. It is very important to always wear shoulder pads to soften direct blows to the joint. It may also be beneficial to work on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint to make the ligaments thicker and stronger.


    A common strengthening exercise requires use of a small dumbbell or other weight. Simply start with the dumbbell in one hand, resting at your side. Slowly lift your arm laterally until you have achieved a 90-degree angle between your arm and body at the shoulder. While lifting, twist your arm slowly until the thumb faces downward. At the peak position, your arm should be shoulder height and horizontal to the ground. Then, slowly lower the arm back to a resting position.


    If you are worried that your shoulder may be particularly prone to injury, you may be interested in using an additional protective or stabilizing device in addition to the required shoulder padding. In this case, consider use of a flexible stabilizer such as the New Options Arm-adillo Stabilizer or the Swede-O Thermoskin Sport Shoulder support.

  • Reduce Risk of Lower Body Football Injuries

    Reduce Risk of Lower Body Football Injuries

    It is an unfortunate truth that football and injury go hand in hand. According to the NCAA, college football athletes have a competition injury rate of 36.5 injuries per 1,000 exposures (an exposure being one player in one game). This well outpaces the injury rate of men’s wrestling (26.6 per 1,000), which is the next highest rated sport.

    But, this doesn’t mean a football player must resign himself to regularly occurring injuries. In this and another article in the series, we take a look at some of the most common traumatic injuries experienced by football players and discuss some potential methods of prevention for each. This article focuses on common lower body injuries.

    Knee Injuries

    The knee is the most common location for football-related injuries, accounting for 17.1% of injuries for college athletes. The knee is surprisingly ill-adapted to the kinds of stability-and-balance based motions undergone during typical football plays (such as jump-cuts), and buckling and hyperextension can cause painful injuries leading to long-term sidelining. Many of these injuries are due to ligament tears, particularly in the medial collateral, posterior cruciate, and (dreaded) anterior cruciate ligaments.

    To reduce the likelihood of knee injury, it is important to perform regular strengthening exercises for the muscles surrounding the knee. One example is the lateral step up, which can be performed as follows:

    1. Stand next to an 8 to 12 inch high step with your right side facing it.
    2. With your right foot step up onto the step, simultaneously driving your left foot upward until it is even with the waist.
    3. Step down and repeat twenty times (two sets of ten) for each side.

    To supplement this strengthening, it is important to perform regular stretching, especially just prior to exertion. This will reduce the chance of “shock” injuries. If you have knees prone to injury, it may be beneficial to fit it with a brace. A brace can stabilize the knee and reduce the chance of hyperextension or excessive rotation leading to injury. Some braces are designed for sport use and continue to provide stability without unduly limiting range of motion.

    Ankle Injuries

    The ankle is another area prone to football injury, especially in the form of sprains or tears to the lateral ligaments, which are the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Sprains typically occur due to an awkward rolling, twisting, or turning of the ankle outside of its normal range of motion. This can occur in any number of football situations, such as being stuck in an awkward position under the pile, slipping on the playing surface, taking a cut too hard, or colliding with another player.

    Since it is essentially the same style of injury (ligament tearing) as typically found in the knee, it comes as no surprise that prevention techniques follow the same methodology. You should:

    • Maintain and enhance muscle strength through regular exercise, such as theraband routines
    • Stretch often, especially before exertion, to increase flexibility and prevent “shock” injuries
    • Consider wearing a stability-enhancing ankle brace in cases of particularly injury-prone ankles

    The risk of re-injury is very real – 13% of on-field injuries on the football field are actually re-injuries of previous problems. Taking preventative action can help stop those injuries from happening in the first place, keep you on the field more often, and make you a stronger athlete.