Football is such a popular sport, with so many people playing the game across the world, but it doesn’t come without its risks – the ‘Beautiful Game’ can also be a painful one, at times! You just have to look at how many serious injuries occur, never mind the strains, sprains and other injuries.
So, how can you prevent such injuries from taking place. Here, we’ve outlined the most prevalent injuries that can see you out of action for several games and detailed how you can work to reduce the risk for an all-round safer and better on-pitch performance…
Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
There are four ligaments that keep your knee stable. One is your ACL . 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…
To try to limit injuries to your ACL, focus on strengthening the muscles in your knee’s vicinity, including the hamstrings and quadriceps. According to HSS, Hospital for Special Surgery, you should do plenty of leg 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.
Pulled or torn hamstring
Found at the back of your thigh, your hamstring runs from the hip to the knee. As your legs are crucial parts of a football match, 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.
Tearing a muscle often involves a significant amount of swelling, bruising and a great deal of pain. 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 hamstring strain. Squats, lunges and hamstring kicks are also great preventative exercises, as they work to strengthen the hamstring muscles.
The Nordic ham curl is one of the best exercises you can do to avoid hamstring injuries. Here’s how to do it:
- 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.
If you sprain your ankle, you’ve basically damaged the soft tissue in the ligaments in this part of your foot. 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:
- Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).
- Calf raises.
- Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
If you stretch for a stray ball, you can easily injure your groin. 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.
Key to avoiding a strained groin is completing a good warm-up. 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.
How to prepare before a match
If you suddenly use your muscles, you heighten the risk of strains and injuries. 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%.
The best way to limit the risk of getting a football injury is to stretch and carry out short, cardiovascular exercises in order to make your blood flow to your muscles before every match. 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.
Footballers must follow a good dietary plan to keep fitness levels high. 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.
You could also incorporate nutritional supplements to help prevent injury, aid recovery and improve performance. For example, vitamin D can help strengthen your bones and muscles, according to some scientific studies, while omega 3 may protect your tissues from damage and ubiquinol could alleviate muscle soreness.
Utilise the above tips into your sporting regime and you’ll be less likely to get injured on the pitch and miss vital playing time.