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5 Common Football Injuries

By Paul LaDuke, ATC

August in the United States is a hallowed month to many Americans as it brings the beginning of another football season.  Having played football at my high school in Colorado and during my (very small) college career in Wisconsin, I have always loved the start of football season because soon follow crisp autumn evenings, leaves changing color (at least in northern climates), marching bands adding atmosphere and tradition, communities bonding over their teams and high school athletes learning about real life outside the traditional classroom.  There is nothing more American than football.  Visit most rural towns on a fall, Friday night and the community is likely to be at the local high school game.  Personally, I love it!

We all know football is a collision sport with a high risk of pain and injury.  I look back at my own time playing football and the injuries I suffered and wonder if it was worth it.  My opinion is yes, it was worth it because life is a collision sport too.  Life will knock you down, cause you pain, tackle you or injure you at times.  But you get up when you can, you huddle up and you get ready for the next play.  Football taught me invaluable life lessons.

When given the opportunity to blog about 5 common football injuries, I jumped at the chance.  This season represents my 33rd football season directly involved with high school football and my 38th season at all levels.  I was the water boy in elementary school and junior high, played for 4 years, coached for 1 year and have been an Athletic Trainer (AT) for 22 years.  With all that experience, it is hard to limit it to 5 – but here are my 5.

Heat Stress Injury

Heat acclimatization has become a popular topic with many states and governing bodies passing legislation and guidelines to reduce the incidence of death and life-threatening situations.  ATs are highly educated experts in the recognition and treatment of this common injury.  The best programs do everything they can to prevent this injury.  Monitoring athletes’ daily body weight and ambient practice temperatures is vital to preventing heat illness.  Having a good Emergency Action Plan set into place is also vital to ensure best practice as soon as heat illness is recognized.

Separated Shoulder

The nature of football tackling, landing on elbows and shoulders often with other athletes’ bodyweight adding to the stress, makes separated shoulders a very common shoulder injury.  The severity of the sprain, the athlete’s range of motion and strength levels will determine the ability to play.  Preseason or earlier is a good time to review your team physician’s guidelines for referral and return to play.  Some of these injuries require surgery, but most don’t.  Some require several weeks to heal, others don’t.  The athlete’s position adds more variability into the decision process.  An injury to the quarterback’s throwing shoulder is different than to an inside linebackers.

Finger Injuries

Mallet finger, jersey finger and finger dislocations are very common because of blocking, grabbing jerseys, tackling and catching footballs.  These actions place the fingers at risk.  Some ATs are well versed in reduction of finger dislocations, but the AT must have reductions written into the agreement with their team physician.

Ankle Sprains

Poor practice field condition, tired legs, tackling and other variables increase the risk of ankle injury, with the most common being the inversion ankle sprain.  Since it is a common injury and preventing injury is best practice, there is much debate between ATs about taping ankles.  The reality is most are the sole AT at the high school, and with 50-90 athletes in the program, taping all the ankles to prevent a few sprains isn’t time- or cost-effective.  So, who do you tape?  Why do you tape?  Do you spat the athlete’s shoes?

Concussion

Last, but not least, on my list is the granddaddy of them all – concussion!  Nothing has changed the game more in my 38 years of experience in the sport than the concussion.  Preventing concussions is important to the viability of the game, as governing bodies are taking steps to educate, to mandate proper treatment and return-to-play protocols, and to prevent concussion in football. Within the past year, I have read about college conferences who are limiting contact in practices to a few hours per week.  I have read news reports of state scholastic governing bodies who are also limiting practice contact.

While my state has yet to limit contact hours in a week, the football staff has already done it on their own.  The nature of football practice has dramatically changed in the past 5 years in my experience, reducing the number of concussions. The freshman team still hasn’t seen a reduction as poor tackling technique has been taught at the lowest levels of the sport.  Hopefully, the educational attempts of the American Football Coaches Association will help these lowest levels of the sport improve technique and further decrease the incidence of concussion.

There you have it: my opinion of the 5 most common football injuries.  Agree?  Disagree?  What are your experiences in your region of the US?  My instincts tell me different regions of the nation, socio-economic differences, setting, states and access to ATs will change your top 5.  Please share in the comments section below.