As one of the most popular sports in the world, football is a common activity enjoyed by players of all ages. 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.
It’s important that you try to prevent incurring an injury during every match. 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…
Located in the back of your thigh and stretching from your hip to your knee, the hamstring is crucial in football. 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.
Bruising, swelling and pain are symptoms of a pulled or damaged hamstring. 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.
But, how do you safeguard yourself from a hamstring injury? Try doing the Nordic ham curl:
- 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.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): ruptured
The stability of your knee relies a lot on your ACL. 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…
Build up the strength of your leg muscles to lower the chances of suffering from an ACL injury. 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.
Over-stretching — when tackling or reaching for the football — can cause strain and injury 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.
As with many other injuries, carrying out a decent warm-up is the best way to avoid 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.
A sprained ankle is soft tissue damage. 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).
Preparing before a game
Sudden movements increase the risk that you’ll incur an injury during a football match. 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%.
It’s vital that you encourage blood flow to your muscles in order to prepare them for the match ahead. 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.
Diet is another factor that can help footballers stay fit and avoid 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.
What about adding some nutritional supplements to your diet? For example, vitamin D and vitamin D3 can 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.
Bring these warm-up and dietary tips into your fitness regime this season and make sure you stay on top form in every game.