The last thing you want to worry about when enjoying football is an injury. An injury can keep a player off the pitch for a match or longer. It’s crucial for players to know how to prevent injuries and keep the field as safe as possible.
We’ve looked at some of the most common injuries encountered by football players, and provided tips on how to protect against them. With this, you’ll spend less time tending to a sore ankle, and more time getting better and better at your game of choice!
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t sprained their ankle at some point, even off the pitch! According to the CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), approximately 70-85% of these injuries are ‘inversion’ sprains, which means the ankle has been turned inwards — common when tackling and dribbling the ball. If you’re looking to reduce the risk of a sprained ankle, try and do these exercises three times a week:
- Calf raises.
- Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).
- Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
Damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) provides your knee with stability. However, it’s often damaged by the twisting and turning of the leg, which means it’s a common injury for football players. If you hurt your ACL, it’ll be painful and you’ll likely see swelling around the area. But before then, you may hear and feel it pop or snap…
Protect against injury by developing your leg strength. According to HSS, Hospital for Special Surgery, you should do plenty of legs stretches like squats and walking lunges. Having good balance — or proprioception — is vital if you want to avoid injuring your ACL too, so practice standing on one leg (30 seconds on each) regularly to boost your stability. These exercises also help prevent injuries to your menisci, which are cartilages that protect the knee joint.
Sometimes, you can over-stretch the groin muscles when tackling or reaching in football. If you strain your groin, you’ve basically over-extended your abductor muscles, found in your inner thigh. A slight strain will often cause some pain, however, serious groin strain injuries can impede on your ability to walk and run, which is a serious flaw for a football player.
Remember to incorporate hip and thigh stretches during your warm-up to reduce the chance of a groin strain. Make sure you stretch your inner and outer thigh muscles daily and see if you can also get regular sports therapy or massage treatments to keep these muscles flexible. A strong core enhances pelvic stability, which will also reduce the chance of groin strains, so do plenty of planks and crunches as part of your basic workout routine. Resistance bands are also very handy for strengthening your inner thigh muscles and preventing groin strain.
Football players are no strangers to the pain of a pulled hamstring behind their thigh. Sometimes your hamstring muscles can overstretch, resulting in pain at the back of the leg, as well as potentially bruising and swelling. If you tear your hamstring, you could be out of action for a while, however, if you simply pull your hamstring, you should be fine to continue.
Watch out for any pain or signs of bruising to your hamstring, as this is likely caused by an injury. Reportedly, people with existing back issues are more susceptible to strained hamstrings, so to avoid this injury, loosen your back with exercises such as lumbar rotation stretches (lying on the floor and rolling your knees from side to side). Basic glute stretches will ease muscles around your hips, while yoga will help you stay flexible, which will lower the risk of a hamstring strain. Squats, lunges and hamstring kicks are also great preventative exercises, as they work to strengthen the hamstring muscles.
Try out the Nordic ham curl to prep your hamstring before a game:
- Kneel on the floor.
- Hook your feet under something sturdy and heavy that can take your weight or ask a partner to hold your feet to act as an anchor.
- Breathe deeply, engage your core and slowly lower yourself to the ground, using your hamstrings to keep your body straight.
- After reaching the ground, push yourself up and repeat.
Best practice off the pitch
Rigorous activity without a proper warm-up increases the likelihood of injury. According to a scientific study, taking part in a structured warm-up is effective at stopping players from suffering common football injuries and can reportedly even lower these by approximately 33%.
A warm-up gets the blood pumping and gently alerts your muscles for activity to come. Here’s a top warm-up session to help you prepare your tendons, ligaments, and muscles for a good performance:
5 minutes: jogging and side-stepping to boost your core temperature.
15 minutes: stretching, focusing on your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, lower back, calves, Achilles tendon, and hip flexors. You should hold your stretch for ten seconds every time.
10 minutes: mimicking football movements without a ball including high kicks, squats, jumps, and side-foot passes.
10 minutes: practicing shooting, heading, passing, and dribbling as a team with a football.
You can also prepare for the pitch through your dietary choices. Eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates — including eggs, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, turkey, and salmon — to build muscle and deliver energy. Also, lower your alcohol intake — it dehydrates you and leaves your muscles more susceptible to cramping and injury.
Nutritional supplements could also aid in the prevention of injury through exercise. For example, vitamin D and vitamin D3can help strengthen your bones and muscles, according to some scientific studies, while omega 7 may offer cardiovascular benefits and vitamin C could alleviate muscle soreness.
Remember, the best treatment for injury is prevention! Keep these tips in mind and keep yourself in the game.