Football is the most popular sport in the UK, with players of all ages taking part in it regularly. But the pitch can also be a dangerous place — just look at all the professional players that miss months of matches due to strains, sprains and other injuries.
If you want to dodge an injury that could put you out of action, we’ve outlined the most prevalent injuries in football and detailed how you can work to reduce the risk for an all-round safer and better on-pitch performance…
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
Your anterior cruciate ligament is essential to the stability of your knee. 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…
The key to protecting your ACL is increasing the stability of your knee. 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.
When you stretch for the ball in a match, you run the risk of doing damage to 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.
Make sure you warm up properly before every football match if you want to dodge a groin strain injury. 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.
Sprained ankles are common in many sports. 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:
. Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
. Calf raises.
. Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).
The hamstring goes from the knee to the hip and is situated in the back of your leg. 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.
If you harm your hamstring, you usually feel a lot of pain and may be able to see some swelling and bruising. 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 a great exercise for preventing hamstring injuries:
. 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.
Warm-ups, diets and nutritional supplements
If you move suddenly, you boost the chance that you’ll cause damage to your muscles and tendons — but moving fast is unavoidable in football. 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 key is to encourage your blood to flow into your muscles — which you can do in the warm-up before you start the 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.
What you eat can also make a significant difference to your fitness levels and chances of incurring an injury. 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.
Then again, for an extra boost, you can also incorporate nutritional supplements into your diet. According to some scientific studies, vitamin D can help strengthen your bones and muscles, while vitamin C might alleviate muscle soreness and omega 7 can improve cardiovascular health and inflammation response.
Maintain an excellent performance on the pitch with these warm-up and diet tips.