As summer winds down, practices for fall sports are beginning, increasing the possibility of injuries for student athletes. That group includes football players, whose sport lends itself to a greater chance of sustaining certain types of injuries.
“Football has the highest rate of injury of any sport,” says Dr. Nickolas Linkous, an Orthopedic Sports Surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “As with all sports activities, there are ways to lessen the likelihood of injury. And it’s important for coaches, parents, and others to help students take steps to stay safe and healthy as they participate.”
As a first step to staying safe, athletes should warm up their muscles properly before practices and games, Dr. Linkous says. It’s also critical to wear the correct type of protective gear and ensure that it fits properly. This includes helmets, mouth guards, proper shoes, knee pads, and shoulder pads.
“It’s also important to participate in the right conditioning and training programs for the sport and position played,” Dr. Linkous says. “Overall, athletes should focus on maintaining and increasing flexibility by participating in aerobic activities, strength exercises, and endurance drills. Staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet are also important.”
Some of the most common injuries among football players are:
- Knee ligament injuries — ACL and MCL strains/tears
- Foot and ankle injuries, including turf toe
- Quad, hamstring, and groin strains
- Head injuries (primarily concussion)
- Shoulder and neck injuries
- Wrist and hand injuries
Football season for most school and recreational leagues typically lasts only about 10 weeks.
“If someone gets injured and must miss several weeks, that can be a significant portion of their season, in addition to the physical problems they experience,” Dr. Linkous says. “That makes diagnosing and treating injuries in a timely manner important.”
Concussions are the most serious injury concern for football players. Nausea, dizziness, headaches, loss of concentration, blurry vision, and loss of balance are common concussion signs. If an athlete experiences any of these, they should alert their coach or athletic trainer immediately.
“Athletes shouldn’t try to keep playing,” says Cassy Timmers, a ThedaCare Licensed Athletic Trainer (LAT) for the Appleton Area School District. “A concussion can have serious, long-term consequences.”
Timmers encourages parents to follow up with their children about any serious hits they may have experienced during a game. Don’t hesitate to have the player examined by a physician if something seems amiss, she says.
“It’s important for kids to know their athletic trainer and have a relationship with them. The LAT can recognize changes in an athlete’s behavior that might tip them off to an injury,” Timmers says. “Kids don’t always want to admit they are hurt, and an observant coach or athletic trainer can spot when a kid is acting or playing differently.”
ThedaCare provides LATs for more than a dozen school districts in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, protecting and caring for around 13,000 students.
ThedaCare LATs work on the sidelines of athletic events — and behind the scenes. As health care providers, LATs offers student-athletes a wide range of services, including:
- Immediate injury care
- Injury and illness evaluation
- Coordination of care with physicians
- Rehabilitation services
- Guidance for managing chronic injuries
- Assistance keeping athletes in the game when appropriate or recommending relative rest (limiting activities that require thinking and concentration) when needed
Timmers says with proper training, athletes can reduce their injury risk. ThedaCare LATs are committed to injury prevention and overall wellness. They guide coaches and athletes on important issues, including:
- Dehydration and fluid replacement
- Safe practice during heat and humidity
- Concussion prevention and care
- Mental health and overall wellness
- Nutrition counseling for optimal health and performance
- Smart conditioning to minimize injuries and maximize performance
Even with the risk of injury at some point, playing a team sport like football can offer many benefits to young people.
“It can teach them about the importance of cooperation and understanding their responsibility to the team and themselves,” Dr. Linkous says. “It can also teach them social interaction skills and help them feel part of something larger than themselves.
“It’s just important that they engage in safe practices to reduce the likelihood of injury and, if injured, to seek professional medical guidance in a timely manner,” he says. “We want all of our student athletes to have a safe, successful season.”
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