The NFL pre-season is underway, and although the regular season hasn’t even begun, many players have already suffered both minor and season ending injuries. Dr. Thomas Gill, former head team physician for the New England Patriots and orthopedic surgeon at NEBH, has seen a number of pre-season injuries first-hand. Here, he looks at a few of the most common injuries, how they occur, and ways to prevent them.
A hamstring injury is damage to one or more of the muscles at the back of the thigh, and can include a pull, a partial tear, or a complete tear. In football, hamstring injuries often occur when players are sprinting down the field. These injuries are especially common during the pre-season because players tend to be slightly out of condition, and not as flexible as they are during the regular season. The hot weather can cause dehydration as well, which contributes to the risk of muscle strains. Players are instructed to weigh themselves before and after each practice to make sure that lost fluids are being adequately replaced.
There are many types of shoulder injuries that a football player can incur. Two of the more common types of injuries include dislocations and AC separations (separated shoulder), which are caused by a direct blow to the shoulder or falling on an outstretched hand. Other injuries to the shoulder can include fractures, rotator cuff tears, and sprains.
A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is partially or completely out of the socket. This causes pain and unsteadiness in the shoulder. Depending on their position, some players who suffer a shoulder dislocation for the first time do not require surgery and can return to play after several weeks, often times using a “harness” for support. If the shoulder continues to dislocate, surgery may be required.
An AC separation or “separated shoulder” is a tear of the ligaments between the clavicle (collar bone) and acromion bone, which causes the clavicle to stick up. These injuries can range from mild to severe. Most are treated without surgery, although rehabilitation is often required before returning to play.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are common in football players. They are caused by quickly changing direction, stopping suddenly, landing incorrectly from a jump, or direct contact with another player. Surgery is required to fix a torn ACL, so this injury is typically season ending. Meniscal injuries (torn cartilage) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) tears are also common, and braces are often used for prevention purposes.
Like any sport, it is important for football players to remain in shape during the off-season to help prevent pre-season injuries. Additional prevention strategies include stretching, warming up and cooling down properly and staying hydrated.