How to Treat Common Football Injuries
Football, sometimes referred to as soccer, is the most played sport globally, with over 240 million registered players, plus many more who play football recreationally. Due to this, football also tops all other sports in the number of injuries sustained through play.
A good Football First Aid Course and a Football First Aid Kit with the correct contents can go a long way in preparing first aiders and coaches to treat the most common sports injuries in football when an accident occurs. Having a good knowledge of the risks involved can effectively reduce the impact that football injuries can have on your players.
Most typical football injuries can be categorised as overuse injuries, including most pulled muscles, sprains and strains, and knee injuries. Football is a high-intensity sport, and the regular contact and physicality that football players endure can sometimes result in trauma injuries, including a football ACL injury, head injury and concussion, severe strains and sprains, and fractures or breakages.
While many common football injuries suffered are treatable and less severe, having a better knowledge of the most common football injuries can help you to reduce their long-term impact or how to prevent football injuries in the first place.
We will cover the most common scenarios on the football injury list and discuss how to treat common football injuries when required.
- The Most Common Football Injuries
- Treating Concussion
- Trauma Football Injuries
- Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury
- Overuse Football Injuries
- Football Groin Injury
- Football Hamstring Injury
- Other Common Football Leg Injuries
- Football Ankle Injury
- Football Achilles Tendon Injury
- Football Knee Injury
- Rotator Cuff Football Injury
- Football Wrist and Hand Injuries
- Sports Tape To Support Recovering Ankle, Hamstring and Wrist Injuries
- Supporting Football Players in Injury Recovery
The Most Common Football Injuries
The tackling, dodging, running, jumping, and almost inevitable falling that players endure during a match or training session will commonly lead footballers to sustain the following football-related injuries:
- Football head injuries, including concussions.
- A football ankle injury, including sprains or fractures.
- A football leg injury, such as a hamstring injury, football players can suffer pulls or tears.
- A football knee injury, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
It’s important to factor in the football injury risk every time players are on the pitch and monitor possible symptoms of injury throughout a game. While a player who is full of adrenaline during play wants to focus on the match and push through pain or discomfort, it is vital to remember that ineffective treatment of symptoms on the pitch can lead to long term football injuries. Good knowledge and assessment of typical football injuries enable coaches to keep as many players as possible fit for play in the long term.
The most frequent of all football head injuries is a concussion. A player can sustain a concussion due to a sudden impact on their skull, which shakes the player’s brain inside their head. A concussion must always be taken seriously as it can cause a “bruise” on the brain and potentially lead to the risk of brain damage, resulting in one of the most long-lasting and severe injuries in football.
Most football first aid kits are not equipped to treat concussions alone. While first aiders will be trained in assessing and treating the basics of a head injury and a possible concussion, it’s worth looking at the FA concussion guidance to treat a player safely. Always be on the side of caution and remove them from play, even when there is doubt that they have sustained a concussion.
The FA’s guidance on managing head injuries in professional football stipulates that:
“If there has been a confirmed or suspected period of loss of consciousness, the player must be removed from the field of play, and not be allowed to return.”
This is supported by NHS guidance that advises anyone who has sustained a head injury and presents the following symptoms likely has a concussion, and you should call 999 or take them to A&E immediately.
A concussion is likely if the player:
- Has been knocked out but has now woken up.
- Has vomited (been sick) since the injury.
- Is finding it difficult to stay awake.
- Presents problems with memory.
- Complains of a headache that does not go away.
- Is bleeding from the nose or ears.
- Is confused and behaving strangely.
Professionals advise that symptoms of concussion usually start within 24 hours but sometimes may not appear for up to three weeks. This is why it is essential that a player who may be suffering from a concussion stops play, rests, and is monitored continuously by a professional.
Trauma Football Injuries
Trauma injuries can occur across all high-contact activities, including football. Incidents of traumatic football sports injuries are statistically more likely to impact players during matches than while they are training.
Acute injuries such as serious football head injuries, broken or fractured bones, acute sprains and strains (ACL injuries included), and open wounds are classified as trauma injuries.
First aiders will have been trained in the basics of emergency first aid for football injuries, though most trauma injuries will require urgent hospital treatment. If a player is observed to have a severe trauma injury that can’t be treated effectively with a football first aid kit, the best protocol is to dial 999.
Strains, sprains and pulled muscles can vary in classification as either traumatic injuries or less severe overuse injuries, depending on their severity.
Most football injuries are classified into three grades guided by the following symptoms:
Mild damage, mild pain or discomfort where the area has been overstretched but not torn. A less severe overuse injury, usually involving 5-10% of the muscle fibres and tends to require 1-2 weeks of rest.
Moderate damage and complaints of moderate pain. The muscle is overstretched and could be partially torn. Usually requires 3-6 weeks of rest and healing time with professional attention.
Usually, a severe tear or rupture affects most or all of the muscle fibres, making it qualify as a traumatic football injury. Players whose injuries are classified in Grade Three may require surgery and could be in recovery and rehabilitation for 3-4 months.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury
Sports professionals consider the most serious trauma knee injury to be an ACL injury; football players can require surgery and rehabilitation, which can keep them off the pitch for several months.
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a vitally important stabilising ligament in the knee, connecting the thigh bone to the shin bone. When playing football, the ACL can be injured when the lower leg remains planted and secure while the upper part of the leg twists or moves. An ACL injury commonly occurs when the knee is over-extended, such as during tackles or when a player lands a jump while in motion.
The severity of an ACL injury can vary. Some players will sustain a mild sprain that can be treated with the Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate method and simple rehabilitation exercises. However, a tear to the ACL is much more dangerous and will require medical attention immediately, often requiring surgery to repair the ligament. If there is any concern that a player has sustained an ACL injury, football coaches should ensure it is assessed carefully and treated before they return to play. We cover how to spot and treat an ACL tear in our blog so you can be sure when to seek professional advice and take a player off the pitch if required.
Another serious knee injury sustained through overuse and trauma is damage or tears to Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). Similarly to an ACL injury, in the event of an MCL injury, football players will require immediate attention and may be in recovery for extended periods.
Damage to the ACL or MCL in a player’s knee can also result in a dislocated kneecap football injury which would require a long healing period and extensive rehabilitation before the player could return to play.
Overuse Football Injuries
Overuse injuries are generally less severe and are common in all high-energy sports, including rugby, basketball, or boxing. In football, overuse injuries often occur during matches or training sessions where players repeatedly over-used or over-extended their bodies, leading to muscle strains or stressed joints.
For most common overuse injuries, sports professionals and the NHS recommend applying “RICE” therapy to minimise trauma and pain symptoms when a football injury has been identified.
The process of RICE therapy is broken down into the following stages:
- REST – remove the footballer from play and reduce the amount of movement in the affected area as much as possible.
- ICE – apply cold packs to the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- COMPRESS – compress or bandage the area to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage.
- ELEVATE – keep the area raised above waist height and supported on a pillow as much as possible to help reduce any swelling.
Football Groin Injury
Groin strains are a common football thigh injury reported by players which can be treated effectively using the RICE method. Many players complain of a groin injury; football requires continuous movements, including quick tackles, dives and jumps, which can cause the upper leg muscles to become over-stretched and tender.
The severity of the injury will determine how long a player will be off the pitch in recovery. Applying the RICE method, taking rest from play, sourcing appropriate physiotherapy and regular gentle exercises will often improve the rate of healing for most football muscle injuries. We cover how to treat a groin strain in our blog.
Good warm-up exercises and strength training can help to prevent a thigh muscle injury, football players need to optimise blood flow in order to reduce the risk of avoidable football muscle injuries during a match.
Football Hamstring Injury
Similarly to a groin strain or calf injury, football players commonly report a hamstring injury. Football requires regular stopping, starting, and fast sprints to score a goal or successfully tackle an opponent. When a player’s hamstring is over-stretched, symptoms can range from complaints of tenderness to a debilitating football leg injury that requires long periods away from the game. Advice for initial treatment suggests RICE Therapy to aid recovery. We discuss how to treat a pulled hamstring in our blog.
Sudden vigorous activity or hard impact can result in a more serious injury, such as a torn hamstring, that could require surgery. Football players with hamstring injuries usually report symptoms of severe pain or reduced mobility and should be assessed by a professional sports physical therapist.
Other Common Football Leg Injuries
A football leg injury can come in many forms, ranging from mild muscle strains in the calf to a serious breakage, tear, or hip injury. Football physiotherapists are trained to advise on the best ways to treat common football leg injuries.
Shin injuries from football, such as bruising, swelling, and tenderness from the impact of a tackle, are very common and would be classified as minor. They can usually be treated effectively with the RICE method.
Another common football injury is shin splints, often caused by intense periods of running during a game. Shin splints can cause discomfort when exercising and can also benefit from the RICE method followed by a gentle exercise to strengthen the lower leg muscles. We cover ways to prevent and treat shin splints in our blog.
Most football players wear shin guards to protect their shins. However, a traumatic impact on a football player’s lower leg could result in a serious fracture or even a broken bone. Any player suffering from a suspected bone fracture or breakage should be taken to the hospital for professional treatment immediately. Always exercise caution when moving a player with broken bones, as the injury can be worsened when not kept secure and protected.
Football Ankle Injury
As football players are frequently running on their feet during play and often enter into tackles, football ankle injuries are a commonly reported football foot injury. Their severity can range from minor sprains to breakages or a serious ankle ligament injury in football.
When players are warmed up, fit, and wearing well-fitting boots, most common football ankle injuries are easily treated. The NHS recommends using the RICE method to treat a sprained ankle, and we cover more details on ankle sprain treatment in our blog.
A professional sports physiotherapist should assess the football ankle injury where intense pain symptoms or limited range of movement are identified and determine if more serious treatment is required, including surgery.
Football Achilles Tendon Injury
The most common Achilles injury football players report is Achilles tendonitis. This is an overuse injury caused by the stress of the Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of the leg connecting to the ankle.
To treat an Achilles heel injury, football physiotherapists recommend applying the RICE method to reduce swelling in the lower leg. Additional measures to treat the Achilles area could be to apply sports tape to the back of the leg to support the tendon or use sports massage techniques to aid blood flow.
If a player is struggling to move their foot or support their weight on that leg, they may require a course of physical rehabilitation and rest before returning to active play.
Football Knee Injury
It is easy to sustain a knee injury playing football. The knee is an area comprised of bones, tendons, cartilage and ligaments that are all prone to injury from sudden twisting or direct impact on the pitch. Football knee injuries can range from minor sprains to meniscus tears, dislocations, or fractures.
Football first aiders will be trained in the basic assessment and treatment of knee injuries. However, an experienced sports physiotherapist will be best equipped on how to treat knee injuries from football. For example, identifying an ACL injury as soon as possible is critical in ensuring further damage is minimised.
Rotator Cuff Football Injury
A rotator cuff football injury is one of the most common football shoulder injuries, players report.
Rotator cuff tendonitis is caused by overuse, resulting in one or more of the four tendons in the shoulder becoming inflamed. This can usually be treated effectively with the RICE method.
More seriously, a rotator cuff tear can occur when inflamed tendons in the shoulder suffer a tear through repetitive motion and overuse. Goalkeepers, in particular, are likely to sustain a rotator cuff football injury. This can result in a partial or complete tear of the tendon in the shoulder. A complete tear where the tendon or tendons have detached from the bone can be serious and often requires surgery as it cannot heal independently.
To recognise a possible rotator cuff football injury, whether tendonitis or a full or partial tear, coaches or first aiders should look out for symptoms such as:
- A weakness in the shoulder.
- Pain when lifting the arm.
- Complaints of a snapping feeling when moving the affected arm.
A strained muscle or tendon in the shoulder area, or minor partial tear, will require attention and application of the RICE method, usually healing on its own. However, if symptoms are more severe and mobility is impaired, ensure that the player is assessed by a medical professional or trained sports therapist as soon as possible to reduce the risk of further injury.
Football Wrist and Hand Injuries
Wrist or hand injuries can impact football players, usually caused when a hand is reached out to break a fall or when catching a ball. Wrists and fingers can be over-extended in their joints, either bending too far forward or too far back, causing a strain on the joint and muscles. Sudden, hard impact can also result in more serious breaks or fractures.
Many football players wear sports tape on their wrists to prevent them from bending too far out of position. Strapping with sports tape can also be an effective way to protect injured joints from further damage when a player returns to sport during recovery. We cover how to tape your wrist for football in our blog.
Football goalkeepers, in particular, are at risk of a football finger injury or even more severe thumb injuries. Football guidelines from the FA permit goalkeepers to wear sports tape under their gloves, wrapped around their fingers and thumbs to support the joints and protect them from serious injury. Where a digit has been bent too far back or even dislocated or broken, the injured player should be assessed by a sports physiotherapist to determine the most effective treatment, as ineffective treatment can lead to long term football injuries and affect performance.
Sports Tape to Support Recovering Ankle, Hamstring and Wrist Injuries
When a football hamstring injury, football ankle injury, or wrist injury has been sustained, and the player is in recovery, using sports tape to compress and support the injury is often effective in protecting the healing area when returning to play.
Supporting Football Players in Injury Recovery
Steropsort is well equipped to support you and your team in preventing, treating and recovering from football injuries whenever they may occur. Whether dealing with minor overuse injuries or serious trauma injuries that require surgery and rehabilitation, seeking guidance from our Injury Rehab Network can make a huge difference in how to best take care of your injured players and help them safely return to the game.
Through a partnership with Sterosport, you can access the Injury Rehab Network and its many benefits. The network is a source of continuous professional development for football coaches, medics, physiotherapists, trainers, and players.
Taking care of your team and preventing long term football injuries takes more than providing a fully stocked first aid kit and assigning a first aider. Contact Andrew Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 902 3030 to find out more about optimising fast recovery from all serious football injuries.
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