Four of the most common football injuries and how you can manage them

Photo of Ashley Oliver
Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
11 June 2018

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be kicking off in Russia this week, and supporters from around the globe will be tuning in to cheer on their country.

It’s set to be a month of camaraderie, competitive tackles, nerve-wracking penalty shootouts and of course a few victory laps. But with sport, often comes injury. And unlike the pros, if you injure yourself during a kickabout at your local park, there’s no medical team waiting for you on the sidelines.

Here I’ll explain some of the most common injuries you might pick up on the pitch and what you can do to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury. I’ll also share my top tips for avoiding an injury in the first place.

It’s no surprise that the most common football injuries tend to affect your lower body. That includes your hip, groin, thigh, hamstring, knee, calf, shin, ankle and foot. You might get an injury from tackling, running, shooting, twisting and turning, jumping or landing. You might also get an injury from using the same muscles repeatedly (overuse), hurting an area you’ve injured before if it’s weak (reinjury), from foul play or colliding with your opponent. You’re also more likely to become injured during a competitive match than during training sessions. Here are a few common football injuries to look out for.

Ankle sprain

When you play football, you’re often running on an uneven surface and have to change direction at a moment’s notice. This means that the ligaments which stabilise your ankle joint could become overstretched, and could cause your ankle to roll inwards or outwards.

Hamstring strain

Your hamstrings are the three large and powerful muscles at the back of your thigh. They produce a driving force during acceleration when you run. Playing football often involves quick changes of pace, going from a complete stop to quick speed in just a couple of seconds. If your hamstrings don’t have enough length (from stretching) or strength, they can become quickly overloaded which could cause an injury.

To help prevent a hamstring strain, make sure to stretch them and use a foam roller regularly. A foam roller is a cylindrical device you use to massage and relieve sore and tight muscles. It can also help to work on strengthening your hamstring muscles using exercises such as deadlifts, leg curls and hamstring bridges, alongside some sport-specific speed drills.

Groin strain

When you’re on the pitch, kicking, twisting running or jumping could injure your inner thigh muscles (also known as your adductors), resulting in a groin strain. To help prevent getting a groin strain from football, be sure to stretch your inner thighs regularly and include strengthening exercises such as adductor side bridges and side lunges in your exercise routine.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury

Your ACL is a very important stabilising ligament in your knee and is most commonly injured if your lower leg stays planted while the upper part of your leg twists or moves. For example during a tackle or when landing a jump whilst moving. Whilst a full tear to your ACL would most likely need surgery, a sprain to your ACL can be managed with physiotherapy and intensive rehabilitation.

If you injure your knee and it’s still painful and swollen after several days, it’s important to seek the help of a physiotherapist. They can assess the extent of the damage and decide the most appropriate course of action for you.

Other possible injuries from football could include:

If you do sustain an injury during football, it’s best to take it easy and allow your body to rest for at least a few days. Follow the steps in the POLICE and HARM graphics below for the first couple of days. If your symptoms continue, speak to a physiotherapist who may be able to help speed up your recovery. They can also give you exercises to strengthen your muscles which may prevent you getting a similar injury in the future.

An image describing the acronym POLICE

An image describing the acronym HARM

Top tips for preventing football injuries

When it comes to any type of sport or physical activity, there are steps you can take to lower your chance of getting an injury. Here are my top tips for looking after your body when you’re playing football.

  1. Strengthen your lower limbs
  2. Away from the pitch, do some lower limb strengthening exercises such as calf raises, squats, lunges and deadlifts to ensure your major muscle groups are adequately prepared to cope with the demand of a football game.

  3. Warm up
  4. Taking just a few minutes to warm up properly before football will prepare your body for exercise and reduce your risk of injury. Do some dynamic stretching (stretching whilst moving such as leg swings and knees up) alongside some jogging to increase blood flow to your muscles. Add in some ball drills involving some changing direction and speed.

  5. Cool down
  6. Spending a bit of time after the game cooling down will also help to reduce your risk of injury. Spend around 10 minutes doing some low-intensity cardiovascular exercise and stretch all your lower limbs thoroughly.

  7. Wear the right gear
  8. Protect your body by wearing the right type of clothing. It’s worth getting fitted with some good boots and wearing shin guards too. If you’re training outdoors, protect your skin from the sun and use a sunscreen with SPF30 and a star rating of 5.

  9. Eat a healthy diet
  10. Staying hydrated and eating the right foods will help to fuel your body during exercise and to recover afterwards. Take a look at our sports nutrition plan to find out more.

  11. Get enough rest
  12. Be sure to get plenty of rest in between training and matches and give your body the time it needs to repair. If you’re feeling any pain or are unsure if you’ve hurt yourself, listen to your body and take a bit of time out to recuperate. Better to miss one match than to end up injured and on the bench for the rest of the season.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Photo of Ashley Oliver
Ashley Oliver
Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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