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Football Injuries

8 min read


In this article we’ll take a detailed look at the most common injuries football players can suffer and the latest advice from the NHSand other leading health organisations. 

I’ll explain exactly what each injury is, how it can happen and what to do if it happens to you to make sure you recover in the best possible way.

Scroll down to watch our videos on how to treat common sports injuries.

The 5 Most Common Football Injuries are:

1. Ankle Sprain 

What is it?

Ankle sprain injuries are caused by the overstretching or tearing of the ligaments (bands of fibrous tissue) that stabilise your ankle joint.

An ankle sprain is one of the most common musculoskeletal football injuries in people of all ages according to Harvard Medical School Medical School. 

When you play football or other ball sports, you often have to change direction quickly when running on an uneven surface.

This can cause your ankle to roll inwards (inversion) or outwards (eversion) causing damage to the ligament.

Ankle sprain injury can also occur to the ankle during a tackle, as the photos below show:


Ankle Sprain Symptoms

  • Painful ankle, worse when walking
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty moving foot or weight bearing
  • Popping or tearing sound at time of injury
  • Ankle weakness

How to Prevent Ankle Sprains

There are a few things you can do in order to reduce your chances of ankle sprain injury when playing football:

  • Stay a healthy weight for your height (sprains are more common if you’re overweight).
  • Avoid footwear that have platform or angled heel
  • Warm up and stretch your muscles properly before and after sport
  • Wear a suitable ankle brace or ankle tape to provide extra support and reduce ankle rolling whilst playing football or other ball sports.

Click here to see the PHYSIFLEX range of ankle supports and ankle braces for football.

Treatment

Ankle sprain treatment aims to reduce pain and swelling whilst preventing further damage.

Recovery may seem slow depending on the injury severity, but it is important to adhere to the proper treatment regimen in order to ensure a full recovery.

The severity of the ankle sprain depends on how much damage is done and how unstable the joint has become.

Immediately after injury, follow the ‘PRICE’ protocol:

Protection – From further injury. For example by using a support or high-top shoes.

Rest– Avoid playing football or running for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury.

Ice – Apply an ice pack (or ice wrapped in a damp towel) for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury. Do not leave this on whilst sleeping. 

Compression – You can use an elastic bandage or elasticated tubular bandage to help control swelling and support the injury. You should remove this when sleeping

Elevation – Elevate the injured area to help control the swelling. This should ideally be above the level of your heart when you are lying flat. Avoid periods of time without having the leg elevated as it will cause more pain and swelling.

For the first 72 hours after the injury, prevent further damage by avoiding ‘HARM’:

Heat – Hot baths, heat packs, saunas. This can increase bleeding and swelling.

Alcohol – Alcoholic drinks can increase bleeding and swelling and decrease healing time.

Running – This may cause more damage in the first 72 hours after injury.

Massage– Bleeding and swelling can increase.

You may need to use a mixture of self-care, medicines and exercises in order to make a full recovery. Read more about ankle sprain treatments here.   

Most ankle sprains heal well after a few weeks if treated properly.

2. Meniscus Tear

What is it?

Meniscus is a type of cartilage in the knee.

The two meniscus in the knee provide a shock absorbing cushion between the upper (femur) and lower (tibia) leg bones.

Under pressure the meniscus can become pinched or torn – most often during twisting movements common in football and basketball, the picture shows below:

Symptoms of Meniscus Tear

Depending on the severity, meniscus tears can cause symptoms of:

  • Knee pain
  • Swelling
  • Irritation
  • Reduced movement
  • Clicking or grinding sensation in the knee
  • Knee locking and buckling.

How to Prevent Meniscus Tear

The best way to prevent a meniscus tear or injury is to:

  • Keep your thigh muscles strong by regular exercising
  • Ensure you warm up and cool down including leg stretch exercises
  • If you’re increasing the intensity of your football training, do so gradually
  • Ensure you have enough knee support and correctly fitting shoes
  • Make sure you get enough rest between football training to avoid injury

Click here to see the best Knee Supports and Sleeves for Football Injuries.

 

Treating Meniscus Tears

The NHS advises that you should visit your GP or a minor injuries unit if you have any of the following symptoms of meniscus injury: 

  • You cannot move your knee properly
  • The pain is not controlled with ordinary pain killers
  • You cannot put any weight on the injured limb
  • There are unusual lumps or bumps (other than swelling)
  • You have numbness, coldness, or discolouration to any part of the injured area
  • Your symptoms are not improving within a few days of self-treatment

3. Muscle Strains

Muscles Strains are the most common football injuries which include:

  • Hamstring Strain (accounting for over 12% of football injuries)
  • Quadriceps Strain
  • Groin Strain
  • Calf strain

Muscle strain injuries are most often are caused by poor-quality warm-ups or lack of stretching prior to playing football.

Changing pace quickly when playing football or other ball sports can overload the leg muscles, causing injury due to the muscle fibres tearing.

Injury can also occur as the muscle fibres stretch and tear when you extend your leg to reach the ball, like in the photo below:

Symptoms of Muscle Strain Injuries

  • Pain and tenderness to the muscle area
  • Stiffness when moving legs or walking
  • Bruising or swelling
  • Reduced range of movement

Treatment

As discussed for ankle sprains, immediately after injury, follow the ‘PRICE’ treatment method:

Protection – From further injury. For example by using a muscle support sleeve or compression bandage.

Rest– Avoid activity or playing football for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury.

Ice– Apply an ice pack (or ice wrapped in a damp towel) for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury. Do not leave this on whilst sleeping. 

Compression – You can use an elastic bandage or elasticated tubular bandage to help control swelling and support the injury. You should remove this when sleeping  

Elevation – Elevate the injured area to help control the swelling. This should ideally be above the level of your heart when you are lying flat. Avoid periods of time without having the leg elevated as it will cause more pain and swelling.  


For the first 72 hours after the injury, prevent further damage by avoiding ‘HARM’: 

Heat

Alcohol 

Running 

Massage 

You may need to use a mixture of self-care, medicines and exercises in order to make a full recovery. Read more about muscle strain treatment here.

Muscle strains heal well after a few weeks if treated properly.

4. Knee Ligament Injuries 

What is it?

There are 4 major ligaments in the knee. These elastic bands of tissue connect the knee bones together and provide stability and strength to the joint.

The 4 major knee ligaments and injuries are:

ACL Injury – Anterior Cruciate Ligament

Located in the centre of the knee, that controls rotation and forward movement of the tibia (shin bone).

This is one of the most common ligaments to be injured in football according to Hopkins Medicine

The ACL is often stretched and/or torn in sudden twisting motions.

PCL Injury - Posterior Cruciate Ligament

The ligament, located in the back of the knee that controls backward movement of the tibia (shin bone)

The PCL injury usually occurs with sudden, direct impact, often seen in a football tackle like in the picture below.

MCL Injury – Medial Collateral Ligament  

The ligament that gives stability to the inner knee.

The medial collateral ligament is injured more often in football than the lateral collateral ligament.

LCL Injury – Lateral Collateral Ligament

The ligament that gives stability to the outer knee.

Stretch and tear injuries to the collateral ligaments are usually caused by a blow to the outer side of the knee, often from a football tackle as shown below:

Symptoms

Symptoms of Knee Ligament Injuries include:

  • Popping sound at the time of injury
  • Leg buckling when trying to stand
  • Knee Pain
  • Swelling

Prevention

Follow these basic rules to prevent knee ligament injuries when playing football:

  1. Don’t let your knees collapse inwards
  2. Always jump, land, stop, and move with your knees directly over your feet
  3. Aim to land lightly
  4. Always warm up and stretch your thighs, calves and hips before playing football
  5. Build strength and flexibility in your hips and thighs

Treatment

The best immediate treatment for a knee ligament injury is to follow the ‘PRICE’ protocol which aims to reduce pain and reduce the bleeding and swelling at the site of injury over the course of around 3 days.

Protection – From further injury. For example by using a knee support or avoiding further activity.

Rest– Avoid football for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury.

Ice – Apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury. This will help to reduce swelling.

Compression – You can use a knee wrap or elasticated knee sleeve to help control swelling and support the injury. You should remove this during sleep.

Elevation – Elevate the injured area to help control the swelling.

For the first 72 hours after the injury, prevent further damage by avoiding ‘HARM’:

Heat– Hot baths, heat packs, saunas. This can increase bleeding and swelling.

Alcohol– Alcoholic drinks can increase bleeding and swelling and decrease healing time.

Running– This may cause more damage in the first 72 hours after injury.

Massage – Bleeding and swelling can increase.

Click hereto see the PHYSIFLEX range of Knee Supports and Knee Sleeves for Football.

5. Achilles Tendinopathy

What is it?

The Achilles tendon is a band of tissue that runs down the back of your lower leg to your heels and helps control the movement of your foot.

It is the thickest and strongest tendon in your body, connecting your calf muscle to your heel bone.

The Achilles tendon can injured by overuse from playing football, running, or other sports, causing the tissue to tear.

Achilles tendinopathy can occur if you damage your Achilles tendon and it doesn’t heal properly.

Over 150,000 people in the UK are affected by Achilles Tendinopathy each year according to BUPA

Symptoms of Achilles Tendinopathy

  • Pain or stiffness
  • Difficulty moving your foot freely or walking
  • Swelling

Prevention

There a number of factors that can help prevent Achilles Tendinopathy from playing football.

These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re overweight you will be more prone to Achilles tendon injury.
  • Limit repetitive motions that overuse your tendon
  • When exercising or warming up before playing football or other sports, gradually increase the intensity of the exercise.
  • Ensure you do a proper warm up with leg stretched for at least 20 minutes.
  • If have a high-arched or low-arched foot, this can put more strain on your Achilles tendon. BUPA advises the use of shoe inserts (orthotics) to help prevent Achillies Tendinopathy.

Treatment

You should follow the same treatment for strains and sprains.

It is important to rest the tendon and stop any activity that triggered the injury to allow it to heal.

Cold packs can be applied to ease symptoms after acute injury.

If your pain eases, you begin gentle stretches and weight bearing.

It is advisable to see your GP or a Physiotherapist if your symptoms don’t ease after 7 to 10 days.

Symptoms of Achilles Tendinopathy can take 12 weeks to fully resolve, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

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