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Preventing Football Injuries

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Football is one of the most popular sports played by young athletes. Unfortunately, it also leads all other sports in the number of injuries sustained. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2007 more than 920,000 athletes under the age of 18 were treated for football-related injuries,

Although overuse injuries can occur, traumatic injuries such as concussions are most common, typically due to the combination of high speeds and full contact. Knee injuries in football are also very common, especially those to the ACL/PCL (anterior or posterior cruciate ligament) and to the menisci (cartilage of the knee).

Learn more about common football injuries and prevention:


The force applied to either resisting a tackle, or bringing an opponent to the ground, makes football players very prone to injury anywhere on their bodies, regardless of protective equipment.


Traumatic Injuries

Knee injuries to the ACL/PCL and menisci in football are the most common. These knee injuries can adversely affect a player's longterm involvement in the sport. Football players also have a higher chance of ankle sprains due to the surfaces played on and cutting motions. Shoulder injuries are also quite common and the labrum (cartilage bumper surrounding the socket part of the shoulder) is particularly susceptible to injury, especially in offensive and defensive linemen. In addition, injuries to the acromioclavicular joint (ACJ) or shoulder are seen in football players.


Football players are very susceptible to concussions, which is a change in mental state due to a traumatic impact. Not all who suffer a concussion will lose consciousness. Some signs of a concussion include headache, nausea, loss of balance, dizziness, drowsiness, numbness/tingling, difficulty concentrating, and blurred vision. An athlete should return to play only after clearance is granted by a health care professional.

Overuse Injuries

Low-back pain, or back pain in general, is a fairly common complaint in football players due to overuse. Overuse can also lead to overtraining syndrome, when a player trains beyond the ability for the body to recover. Patellar tendinitis (knee pain) is a common problem that football players develop and can usually be treated by a quadriceps strengthening program.

Heat Injuries

Heat injuries are a major concern for youth football players, especially at the start of training camp. This usually occurs in August when some of the highest temperatures and humidity of the year occur. Intense physical activity can result in excessive sweating that depletes the body of salt and water. The earliest symptoms are painful cramping of major muscle groups. However, if not treated with body cooling and fluid replacement, this can progress to heat exhaustion and heat stroke — which can even result in death. It is important for football players to be aware of the need for fluid replacement and to inform medical staff of symptoms of heat injury.


  • Have a pre-season health and wellness check-up

  • Tackle with the head facing up, instead of leading with the helmet

  • Practice proper warm-up and cool-down stretches and routines

  • Incorporate strength training consistently

  • Stay properly hydrated and take precaution to minimize cramps

  • Remain active during summer break so that the body is prepared for return to the sport in the fall

  • Wear all protective equipment (helmet, pads, and mouthguard), and ensure that it is properly fitted

  • Speak with a sports medicine professional regarding any concerns about football injuries or football injury prevention strategies


The following expert consultants contributed to the tip sheet: William N. Levine, MD Brett D. Owens, MD

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