There has been a growing body of research over many years that helps physios, doctors, trainers, and coaches to minimise injury risk in footballers. It is of paramount importance that each player prepare themselves physically for the demands of the game and also the loads of a long football season. This includes juniors, particularly from the onset of puberty. Footballers are particularly susceptible to ankle, knee, and groin injuries.
Below is a quick summary of what the research is telling us about these body regions.
- Ankle sprains are the most common footballing injury comprising 15-20% of all sporting injuries. Thirty to 40% of players who have sustained a sprain will re-injure their ankle, particularly in the first year. Prevention includes strengthening ankle muscles, developing/recovering proprioception to help preventative reflexes activate quickly, and the use of strapping or ankle braces. Following even mild sprains it is important to get guidance on appropriate rehabilitation, including ankle joint mobilisations to ensure full joint range is recovered. Stiffened ankle joints following inadequate recovery will lead to increased risk of future lower limb injuries.
- Anterior cruciate ligament injuries can be devastating, require reconstruction and take 6-12 months to return to sport. Many players do not return to pre-injury levels. Thirty percent of players sustain a repeat ACL injury, mostly to the opposite leg. Women athletes are up to 5 times more likely to injure their ACL.
- Preventative measures include
- strengthening of the abdominals/trunk, gluteal and hamstring muscles;
- developing good landing mechanics (land low and avoid knock knees);
- developing good change of direction mechanics;
- train the proprioceptive and neuromuscular systems for early protective firing of your muscles.
- The above strategies will also help decrease risk of injuring other knee ligaments or the patellofemoral joint and its tendon.
- Groin pain in footballers is very common and can involve many structures. These include adductor muscles, tendons, and the bones where they attach; the hip flexor and abdominal muscles; the hip and pubic joints. Skilled examination helps to determine which structure(s) are involved and thus the optimal treatment approach.
- Risk factors for developing groin pain include
- restricted hip joint flexibility – especially internal rotation and extension;
- weakness in gluteal, abdominal and groin muscles;
- excessive load from training including sharp change of direction loading and kicking loading.
Physical testing can be performed on the footballer to determine their individual risk factors. The Brisbane Roar Women’s squad underwent preseason testing involving analysis of functional skills, strength, and flexibility by RHP Physiotherapy. Any identified risk factors were then directly addressed with the goal of minimising injuries and allowing the players to stay on the pitch.
Research has shown that injury prevention programs can reduce injury rates by approximately 40%. Our recommendation is for football teams to be incorporating injury prevention strategies early in a young players’ development, and throughout their football journey.