Jerry Martin provides an overview of how to avoid Football Injuries.
Avoiding injury is a crucial part of achieving peak performance in football. Last year, for the second year running, Celtic F.C. won all three of Scotland's major domestic trophies. In each of those seasons, the club played sixty-seven matches, and several of Celtic's stars also played additional matches for their national teams. Even professional athletes at their peak struggle with that kind of workload and injury are the inevitable result. At the beginning of 2018, when they were on the home stretch of their second Premiership campaign, Celtic had fifteen players out through injury. That is a full team, all three subs and a player to spare!
Why Do Players Get Injured?
At any level, football is a fast, physical game. The rapid twists and turns of dribbling, tackling and passing put pressure on a player's legs and hips. Professional footballers devote much of their training time to strengthening the ligaments, tendons and muscles which are potential flashpoints. Team coaches and physios work to condition the players' bodies, improve their flexibility and help them recover from any minor injuries they sustain during matches and training.
Towards the end of a tough season, players become fatigued. They need longer recovery times. A tired player, or a player who has not had enough rest between training and a big match, are at heightened risk of sustaining an overuse injury. When a player can afford to take time out for recovery, an overuse injury will recover easily and fully. If a player with an overuse injury continues to play, however, the injury is likely to become more serious.
Pro footballers at the top of their game do not want to rest, even when they need it. Celtic have a big squad, and even the team's biggest stars have to earn their place in the starting team. Take time out to recover and there is a danger your replacement will take your place for good. Other players want to advertise their skills to bigger clubs who might sign them. They know that if they miss a match to recover, they are missing a chance to get noticed. Many players, especially a team's most important players, are reluctant to let their teammates down by missing a match. And all footballers love to play football.
With these pressures in play, it is not surprising that professional footballers often ignore their minor injuries. Team doctors rely on their players to report their pain accurately. If footballers downplay their discomfort, doctors can be persuaded to provide enough treatment to allow the footballer to return to the pitch, without realising that they are looking at an injury which needs real rest. When the manager's determined to field his best team, he may be tempted to pressure players into returning too soon.
An added factor in Celtic's struggle with injury may be the Astroturf pitches used by two clubs in the SPL. Astroturf pitches are harder and less yielding than traditional turf pitches. As a result, they are less forgiving to players' joints, ligaments and tendons. This can result directly in injury, but the bigger problem is that players require a longer recovery period after a match on Astroturf. A schedule designed around grass pitches cannot always accommodate that extra time. Celtic must play a minimum of four games on artificial pitches each season. Many amateur players will play more than four matches a season on artificial turf, and they should be aware of the extra precautions required after such a game.
Injury prevention is a big-money business. It costs a lot to develop and train players, and clubs that are good at developing players who are not only talented but free from persistent injury can earn a lot of money in transfer fees. Of course, a club which can keep its players in top condition also has a crucial edge in competition.
Even for top athletes in peak condition, a good warm-up is vital. The beginning of a football warm-up should comprise running and stretches to prepare the leg muscles for the demands of a game, but it should not end there. The core muscles are essential for maintaining balance and strength on the ball, and any football warm-up should work these muscles in a controlled, gentle way. The most important muscles should be actively targeted with plyometric exercises. Before a training session, a typical warm-up should last around twenty minutes. Pre-match warm-ups are ideally a little shorter.
Research has found that this kind of program, implemented consistently and at least twice per week, can reduce match-day injuries by nearly 30%. The key muscles which are most vulnerable during a game of football, including muscles in the back and legs, benefit the most.
An overlooked source of injuries is running gait. The core football skills, from passing to shooting, do not come naturally. They have to be learned, and top players have usually practiced those skills from a very young age. Running, on the other hand, is rarely learned or practised in a conscious way. Most people take it for granted. As a result, many children learn to run in a slightly awkward way, which persists as they get older and begin to play a sport. For most people, it is not a problem and may never even be noticed, but in a pro footballer performing at the top level, the extra pressure of an awkward running posture can be enough to cause recurring injuries. Another cause of an awkward running gait is existing injuries. In trying to spare an injury, players often move differently and put pressure on other muscles or joints.
A physiotherapist can address these issues. A skilled physiotherapist can identify even very small imbalances in the way a player moves and correct them through carefully calibrated exercises. Where a player has an existing injury, physios structure the rehabilitation process to avoid creating new injuries.
Celtic's team have set records in Scottish football, but peak performance is relative. Any player pushing him or herself to achieve more will run an increased risk of injury. Games do not have to be professional to be competitive, and a competitive game is always more likely to include a few reckless challenges. If you are injured as a result of a careless challenge, you might be able to claim compensation. You should consult a legal adviser who specialises in this kind of claim. They will talk you through your options and provide advice on a personal injury claim.
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About the Author
Jerry Martin is a tutor at the Columbia University in the city of New York lecturing in Industry Business, Health, Fashion etc.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: