Common Football Injuries: A Guide for Fans

Common Football Injuries: A Guide for Fans

January 22, 2014

If you’re a football fan, the playoff season is the best time of the entire year. It’s a time when fantasy teams have proven their worth or crumbled under pressure when Sundays are devoted to watching multiple games when epic sports-related snacks are on the menu at every sports bar. But for a sport that is so enjoyable, and with such a vast fan base, it’s also intensely stressful to watch, and there are few things more heart-wrenching for any sports fan than player injuries. Whether someone is carted off or helped to the sideline, sports injuries are always taken seriously and can have a serious impact on both a player’s career and their team’s future. Some injuries are extremely minor, while others require major medical intervention. We’ve seen a lot of injuries over the 2013-2014 season – over 1300, in fact. Here is a guide to some of the most common physical setbacks to plague players this year.

Head Injuries
Despite wearing thick, specially designed helmets, mouth guards, and other protective gear, players have sustained a total of 93 head injuries and 41 neck injuries so far this year. Of those, by far and away the most common head injuries are concussions – 84 this year so far. Football associations at every level, from local organizations to the NFL, are becoming increasingly aware of head injuries and are taking them more seriously than ever. A concussion is an essentially minor trauma to the brain caused by a blow to the head. Minor concussions can lead to a headache and some confusion, while more severe concussions can lead to cognitive impairment and memory loss. A player with concussion symptoms is likely out for the rest of the game. Players are only allowed to return to play after their symptoms have completely resolved and they have passed certain coordination tests, which sometimes take weeks. The NFL has been embroiled in a class-action lawsuit from former players over the lack of care and concern for concussion in the past and recently reached a $765,000,000 settlement. Former stars like Tony Dorsett and Nate Jackson have come forward to talk candidly about their experiences within the NFL, from how their injuries were handled to the symptoms many of them still suffer as a result of their injuries.

Hands and Arms
With throwing and catching being such an important part of the game, it’s easy to see how an arm injury can have a devastating effect on a player’s season or even their career – just look at Rob Gronkowski’s ongoing arm-injury saga for example. There have been relatively few of these kinds of injuries, with only 9 arm and 25 elbow injuries on record so far — that is, until you get to the hand, when suddenly a whopping 60 more get added to the tally. These can involve the thumb, fingers, wrist, and hand, and all can seriously hamper a player’s ability to catch or throw the football.

Body Shots
While a player’s trunk is fairly well protected, there have been quite a few body-blows this season, with 46 back injuries, 49 back issues, 46 hurt hips, and a whopping 60 blows to the groin. A lot of these injuries involve pulled muscles, tweaked tendons or ligaments, and other soft tissue injuries, and many can be intensely painful and hard to recover from. There’s a reason players need all that protective equipment!

Broken Bones
Football is a physical, aggressive game, and despite all the protective equipment, players occasionally break bones. Broken collarbones, such as Green Bay QB Aaron Rogers’ injury, are common, often resulting from severe hits from other players. Broken legs are always a concern, and tend to be the most dramatic injuries to watch, such as Washington QB Joe Theismann’s career-ending compound fracture.

Legs and Ankles, Knees and Toes
As you can imagine the vast majority of injuries suffered by players take place from the waist down. There are many ways for players to sustain a lower-body injury, from a simple slip to a bad tackle. These injuries are not only the most common but tend to have the most serious ramifications for a player’s career. They fall roughly into a few key categories:

  • Upper Leg injuries encompass anything from the knee up, including the hamstrings (which account for most of the injuries to this part of the body, 95 of the total 153), quadriceps, and other muscles and tendons in the thigh.
  • Knee injuries are the single most common complaint endured by football players, and a whopping 294 have happened so far this season. Many of these injuries involve the ligaments in the knee, most often the MCL, PCL, and ACL (medial cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, and anterior cruciate ligament respectively). These ligaments contribute to the four-bar linkage of the knee and make possible the pivoting and starting/stopping that every football player does constantly. Consequently, tears to these ligaments can be severe and have serious consequences for players, including surgery to reconstruct the ligament and long courses of physical therapy and conditioning to return to play.
  • Ankle injuries are also very common, with over 200 occurring this season alone. They range a lot in terms of severity, from minor pulls to the dreaded high ankle sprain. A sprain can involve the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the ankle in any combination, and can range from very minor irritation to a serious and recurring injury. When you see players with white tape on their ankles, this is to stabilize the ankle and prevent sprains. High ankle sprains in particular can be season-ending injuries; Terrell Owens suffered a severe high ankle sprain in the 2007 season that arguably began the unraveling of his NFL career, and that ultimately led to the NFL outlawing the “horse collar” tackles that frequently causes such injures.
  • Lower Leg, injuries involve anything that affects the leg below the knee, including the calf muscles.
  • Feet and toes are often overlooked injuries, but a player suffering from one of these issues is likely to be in a great amount of pain. Broken toes can be especially bad for kickers and running backs, who rely on their ability to firmly plant their feet in the ground as they run and dodge tackles.

If you yourself suffer from knee pain and stiffness associated with being an “armchair athlete”, visit SimpleTherapy to participate in our free Superbowl Knee program designed by doctors to reduce discomfort from sitting in one position for extended periods of time.


Your Journey to Pain Relief

App tracks progress. Step by step guide to pain relief and prevention.

Show results

Free Newsletter

Stay in the know. Our blogs are written by orthopaedic surgeons.