Injury Of The Month: Football Injuries
The football season is now well and truly under way both at professional and also amateur level so we've asked our physiotherapist Alex Manos, who specialises in the lower limb and hip & groin and used to be the First Team Physio for Crystal Palace FC, to give us the guided tour of common football injuries and how to avoid them:
Having worked in professional football for most of my career, the injuries I see there are no different to the injuries seen at the local football pitch on a Sunday morning. So here is some information on common injures seen and advice on how to ensure the best possible recovery and reduce the risk of re injury.
Even at amateur or weekend warrior level, it is still important to prepare as well as possible. A good level of prior conditioning, both strength and cardiovascular fitness wise, will reduce the risk of injury. Working on lower limb strength and stability and also increasing running endurance by using running drills or alternative forms of cardiovascular fitness such as the bike or circuit training will improve both performance and reduce the risk of injury.
Fitness for football
Football is a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic fitness as it can involve both short and long bursts of activity. If you are thinking of improving your fitness levels for football, training should replicate this. For example, you could do interval running session sessions on the treadmill or outside running.
For longer type runs, box to box runs are good where you run from the front edge 18 yd box to 18yd box and then very lightly jog to the goal line, turn and start the run again on the edge of the box. These would be at about 70-80%, 3-4 sets of 6-8 runs with a rest of 2-3 minutes in between sets is good.
For shorter drills then cone work which incorporates shuttle type runs or change of direction drills can be done. As the speed and intensity is higher, ensure a longer rest between runs and sets so you can work at maximum speed.
Circuits or what is commonly known as HIT (high intensity training) is a great way to work the entire body from a strength point of view and also gain cardiovascular benefits to give you a better engine during matches.
Focusing on lower limb stability exercises such lunges and squats will also help with fitness, power, speed and reducing injury risk.. A lot of force goes through the legs so having strong, balanced legs with good ability to safely change direction will help prevent injuries.
Muscular injuries are common as people often reach maximal sprint pace for prolonged distances and as there is kicking involved, it is an additional risk factor. Joint sprains in particular to the ankle and knee are also prevalent. Here are three common injuries:
- Hamstring tears – the hamstring is made up of three muscles at the back of the thigh. Hamstring injuries are very common in football. They typically occur when players are sprinting and when the hamstring is changing its function from shortening to lengthening. Players will report feeling a tearing or maybe even a popping sensation in the back of the thigh. This will lead to pain, reduced mobility and in moderate and severe cases there may be bruising and swelling.
These injuries need rehabilitation and won't just get better with rest. The muscle needs to be adequately strengthened for a safe return to sport. Mild strains can take as little as two weeks whereas severe tears could take up to three months if not more. Once you have had a hamstring tear the risk of re-injury is higher so it’s crucial to do the appropriate work to reduce the risk. A physio can help direct your rehab and ensure all the boxes are ticked. This would be a combination of flexibility and strength work and also then implementing some specific running drills.
- Groin pain – groin pain is a very complex area but is very common in football. The complexity arises from the fact that there are many possible sources of groin pain in athletes and footballers. The hip joint, the pelvis, the lumbar spine, the muscles around the hip and groin and also the abdominal area can all be a source of injury and symptoms. Quite often there is also more than one pathology, or if not then the original injury can lead to other imbalances which then give rise to a secondary problem.
One of the most common misdiagnoses is one of repeated ‘groin strains’ as muscular injuries. Quite often these strains are not actually muscular and the pain originates from the hip joint. An accurate diagnosis is key to providing the right type of treatment to this area and with a thorough subjective history and detailed physical examination, a physiotherapist will be able to determine the problem areas. There may be times where physiotherapy alone is not enough and further intervention such as an injection or surgery may be required but the first thing to do is be properly assessed and referred on for further investigations or opinions if needed. Some groin injuries can become chronic and very difficult to get back from so the sooner they are dealt with the better.
- Knee sprains – the knee is vulnerable to injury in football due to the nature of repetitive twisting and turning and contact. Two of the injuries which are seen are Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Medial Collateral Ligament injuries (ACL and MCL respectively). Both injuries can be a result of contact or non contact mechanism but will involve the knee being twisted beyond its normal range which causes ligament damage. ACL injuires usually require surgery whereas MCL injuries (unless very severe) are more often rehabilitated without surgery.
The recovery following ACL reconstruction is a minimum of six months but typically will be 9-12 months. Minor MCL injuries can recover in six weeks and more severe tears can take three to six months. These injuries require lots of rehabilitation to build the strength back around the knee and other joints. The ligaments provide stability to the knee so any disruption to this weakens the knee and it’s crucial to regain maximum strength and stability before returning to sport. A physiotherapist will guide you through the appropriate stages in rehab to try and return to your previous level of activity.