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Sad on the Sidelines: Reducing the Risk of Football Injuries

It’s been confirmed that San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, tore his ACL in the game against Kansas City on 9/23 taking him out of the game for the season.  And while Coach Kyle Shanahan is confident he’ll come back next year, physicians know the road to ACL recovery is long and unpredictable.

These are the kind of stories that scare football players and discourage some from playing the sport they love.  The truth is football is a contact sport that involves stopping abruptly, sprinting and hitting, so getting hurt is inevitable.  On a more positive note, there are many things that can be done to reduce the risk of injury. Here are some of the most common football injuries and prevention tips to keep you in the game.

ACL Tear

Knee injuries in football are the most common, especially those to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and to the meniscus (cartilage of the knee). 

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the major stabilizing ligament of the knee. Most ACL injuries happen when stress is put on the knee from pivoting with the foot planted.  Additional factors include quickly stopping or changing directions, or suffering a direct blow to the knee. When the ligament is damaged, there is usually a partial or complete tear across the tissue. MCL injuries in football are also common because of side hits causing impact to the side of the knee.  Finally, when a player changes direction suddenly while running the knee can twist which causes the meniscus to tear.

Signs and symptoms of a knee injury:  

Patients report a loud "pop" or a "popping" sensation in the knee as well as severe pain.  Then swelling will begin within a few hours, along with a loss of range of motion. Surgery is almost always needed to repair a tear.

Tips for Preventing Knee Injuries:


Of all sports football presents the greatest risk for concussion. Of all injuries, concussion is the most feared and with good reason.  In fact, all football players have a 75% chance of suffering a concussion. A concussion causes a change in the mental state and is due to impact.  Concussion usually happens during a tackle when the head strikes the ground or another player’s body or helmet.  This causes the brain to bounce around inside the skull.  Concussion causes problems such as headache, dizziness, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating and balance issues. 

In the last decade many guidelines have been established as a result of issues surrounding concussion.  The American Academy of Neurology has many resources that can help athletes, coaches and parents understand concussions more fully:

Hamstring Strain

Hamstring muscle injuries, such as a "pulled hamstring", occur frequently in athletes. They are especially common in athletes who participate in sports that require sprinting.  A pulled hamstring or strain is an injury to one or more of the muscles at the back of the thigh. Most hamstring injuries respond well to simple, nonsurgical treatments.

For hamstring injury, follow RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate) and anti-inflammatory medicine.  On average hamstrings will heal in 2 to 4 weeks, but can take less or more time depending on the severity.

Performing a proper warm up can significantly reduce the likelihood of hamstring and other muscle strains.   

Shoulder Injuries

Common football shoulder injuries include dislocations and separations. These can occur from direct contact with another player or the playing surface.

Shoulder Tendonitis: Tendonitis is the irritation and inflammation of the tendons within the shoulder, typically caused by excessive throwing motions.

Shoulder Dislocation: A shoulder dislocation may occur either from an overly strenuous arm movement or a traumatic impact with another player or the ground. Shoulder dislocations involve the separation of the humerus ball from the scapular socket.

Shoulder Separation: Shoulder separations are more severe than dislocations; they occur when the ligaments attaching and stabilizing the collarbone are partially or fully torn from the shoulder blade.

Symptoms of a dislocation or separation include severe pain, grinding, limited movement and a visible deformity.  Not as common in football, rotator cuff tears often occur from overuse and repetitive motion, such as throwing a football.   Symptoms include pain when lifting your arm from your side, weakness in your shoulder, a snapping feeling when trying to move your arm, or pain that worsens at night.

Accidents will occur on the football field, but following these tips can help keep your shoulders safe:  

Ankle sprains and strains

The most common injury in all sports, ankles are susceptible to soft tissue damage when pivoting, changing direction, or putting too much pressure on the joint.  Strengthening ankles will reduce the risk of injury.  Here are a few simple exercises to strengthen ankles and help keep them flexible.

Heat Illnesses

Heat injuries are a growing concern for coaches of youth football.  Heat illnesses usually occur during the start of training in August.  Excessive sweating depletes the body of water, electrolytes, sodium, potassium and chloride.  Symptoms of heat exhaustion include painful cramping that can progress to heat stroke and even cause death.  Fluid replacement is essential as is allowing the body to cool down.  Applying ice towels and removing tight, unnecessary clothing can also help.  The CDC offers these tips for preventing heat related illness

The doctors and staff at Perimeter Orthopaedics wish you a safe, enjoyable football season.  If we can be of assistance to you or someone you know, please give us a call at 404-255-5595.

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