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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.

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