Even though the number of British people taking part in football has dropped over the past 10 years, there are still over two and a half a million amateur footballers who are active on the pitches. However, this figure is set to rise with the growing popularity of women’s football; indeed, it was recently announced that 200 girls’ football clubs have just opened across England.
Whilst the fitness advantages of being an active footballer are obvious, playing football can result in some of the most common sports injuries.
The most common sports injury is a hamstring strain, and footballers are no exception. The hamstring is the muscle which runs up the back of the leg from the knee to the gluteals, and is important because it controls speed and power. This is why strains can incapacitate footballers.
Hamstring strains affect 12-15% of athletes, but come with a worrying re-injury rate of 22-34%, which is why it’s so important to try and prevent it happening again. To give yourself a fighting chance of preventing hamstring injury, you’ll need to spend around 20 minutes before your match stretching and warming up.
An ankle sprain is one of the common sports injuries with footballers. It happens when the ankle’s ligaments overstretch or tear, usually because of a fall, tripping, a sudden impact, or ‘going over’ on your ankle. Sprains are graded by their severity. Grade I is very mild with no joint instability and can be managed with extra support, such as an elasticated ankle sleeve. Grade II is a moderate sprain. But Grade III is severe and will need to be treated quickly according to the P.R.I.C.E. method, and will benefit from injury rehabilitation.
Because of the nature of this injury, they’re difficult to prevent, but taping and bracing your ankle before a match can help reduce a sprain’s severity.
It only takes a wayward tackle or an awkward landing to result in a broken ankle. These injuries are quite common amongst footballers and cause, unsurprisingly, sudden and severe pain. You can also expect a lot of swelling, bruising and stiffness. If it’s a simple fracture, the ankle is put in a cast until it heals – usually six to eight weeks. More complex breaks may need surgery.
Knee ligament damage
The knee is a complicated joint, and because it bears our weight and is under even greater pressure when we move, it’s also very vulnerable to injury. There are four ligaments in your knee which give it the flexibility it needs to do its job at the same time as maintaining stability. If you damage any of these ligaments, you will need to rest for months before you can get back on the pitch. However, footballers need to be especially concerned about the anterior cruciate ligament, which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. Once torn, this ligament cannot heal, in which case reconstructive surgery is the only option. This kind of injury has been the cause of many professional footballers having to give up their career.
The best way to try and prevent ligament injury is to strengthen the muscles around the joint. See your osteopath or personal trainer for the most appropriate exercises.
Shin splints are common injuries which are caused by overuse, especially for those who do a lot of impact exercises such as running. However, another common cause is badly fitting trainers. Shin splints are caused by inflammation of any of the muscles in the lower leg, the tendons or even the lining of the bone itself. They’re very painful, but usually just require rest and a switch to low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, the cross-trainer or yoga until they’re healed.
One way of preventing shin splints is to wear the right shoes for exercising, which includes getting a gait analysis which will optimise your running style.