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Keep Your Athlete Safe with These 8 Football Injury Prevention Tips

Despite the challenging times, football season is around the corner and it sure would be nice to see our kids gear up and have some fun in the Friday night lights of the stadium! Whether your athlete is in peewee, flag football, junior varsity, varsity or beyond, you’ll want to keep them safe by taking football injury precautions.

American football is an involved sport that requires strength and perseverance. Even the youngest football players need to take steps to prevent injuries on the playing field. Touch or flag football still requires dynamic movement, running, throwing, and kicking.

Of course, injuries can happen, which is why it’s essential to follow these football injury prevention tips. Should your athlete sustain an injury on the field or off, the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin is here to help. Our orthopedic team of experts and physical therapists will do what it takes to get your athlete back in the game as soon as possible. If you have any concerns, contact us for a consultation. Playing should never be painful!

In the meantime, start the season off right with these 8 football injury prevention tips.

1. Don’t Fall for the Summer Slump

Did the long lazy summer lead to a fitness slump? One of the best ways to prevent football injuries is to stay in shape during the off-season. If your athlete let the summer slide by, encourage them to get back on track with regular fitness activities to prepare for the football season ahead.

Strength building exercises are important for preventing injuries by strengthening the right muscles to support joints on the field. Cardio will help athletes build endurance and stamina they need to play through the entire game. If your family hasn’t been fitness-focused this summer, now is an excellent time to get everyone back into prime shape.

2. Get a Pre-Season Checkup Before Play

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and most student football programs encourage a pre-season checkup and physical before hitting the field for tryouts. Doctors should assess kids’ readiness to play and overall physical health. They should look at any previous injuries and evaluate your child’s physical and mental readiness.

In a game like football, bulking-up and maintaining weight is often encouraged by coaches, but extra weight can add strain to a growing frame, stress on joints, and lead to other problems down the road. Encourage your athlete to build muscle and approach gains in a healthy way with plenty of guidance from healthcare professionals, nutritionists, and sports medicine experts.

3. Warm-Up Before Each Game and Practice

One of the most common football injury prevention tips is to take time to warm up before each game. Warming up helps athletes switch gears into “sports mode” where they’re more attuned to their body and movement. Mentally it helps football players gear up for the game.

Light stretching and cardio activities help muscles prepare for more rigorous movement during the game. While the scientific community is still studying the correlation between warming up and injury prevention during sport, many believe that taking time to warm up muscles helps reduce strains and stress on the body. Most coaches require at least some form of warm-up before each game, and your athlete should follow their advice.

4. Invest in the Proper Gear for Football Injury Prevention

As with beginning any sport, proper gear is vital for football injury prevention. Football, and perhaps hockey, are two sports where helmets, padding, and correct footwear are absolutely crucial in every single game. No athlete should play without the proper gear—ever.

The critical protection provided by helmets is so important that the NFL penalizes players every time they improperly remove their helmet on the field. Athletes must always wear all their protective gear, especially during tackle football. Typical protective items include the helmet, mouthguard, thigh guards, athletic supporter, shoulder pads, knee pads, hip and tail padding, as well as cleats. Even during flag football and casual pickup games, players should wear non-slip rubber cleats to help them keep their footing on the grass.

5. Listen to the Coach and Trainers

Coaches and trainers will help student-athletes learn proper tackling techniques. They are trained to keep students safe and will give them the best instructions to protect their bodies when they go down on the field. Encourage your athlete to listen carefully to their input and feedback.

If your student-athlete is injured on the playing field or off, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist to advise them on the proper steps to recovery. Often kids ignore minor injuries because they don’t want to miss out on the season, but this can lead to further damage and problems down the road. Our OHOW PT team helps get athletes back on the quick path to recovery.

6. Stay Hydrated Before, During, and After Play

Hydration is the often-forgotten football injury prevention tip that’s crucial for optimal athletic performance. Players often ignore dehydration until it severely impairs their athletic abilities. By that time, athletes can become tired, lethargic, and even ill. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping and discomfort.

To stay at their peak, athletes should replenish fluids regularly. Aim for 16-24 ounces of water a few hours before hitting the field, and then another cup right before play. During strenuous activity, athletes should drink 4 ounces every 20-30 minutes. Sports drinks are refreshing but often contain extra sugar. Energy drinks may also contain sugar (as well as caffeine and other stimulants) and can even be dangerous when consumed in larger doses. Even though water isn’t as flashy as sports beverages, it’s great for hydration. Encourage your student to carry a water bottle with them, even if they aren’t on a sports team.

7. Watch Out for Overheating

One significant hazard for football players in the early season is overheating. With layers of padding, helmets, and more, players can really feel the heat even in mildly warm weather. August, September, and even October can show some hot days, so plan appropriately and encourage athletes to speak up if they’re genuinely feeling too hot.

Heat injuries are relatively common in young athletes who may ignore the signs until they feel ill. Sweating and exercising drain the body of electrolytes, salt, and water. The first sign of heat-related injury is often muscle cramping, but it can lead to more severe issues like heat stroke. Players should focus on hydration and listen to their bodies when they need to take a break.

8. Cool Down and Stretch Out After the Game

During games, adrenaline is often running high. Football players may feel great when they’re on the field, even if they’ve sustained a significant tackle or fall. Once the game is over and the lights go down, bruises, strains, aches, and pains can appear.

Players should cool down after each game with some light movement, even after practice, when they’re often preoccupied with rushing off to the next important activity. As they stretch out and walk, they should watch for any areas of discomfort. Busy kids may not want to take a break, but rest is an integral part of recovery for any athlete, especially when they engage in a strenuous activity like football. Encourage them to occasionally take it easy and build rest into their training schedule.

Football season is a favorite time of year for athletes and fans. At Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, we’re here to help you stay in the game. Keep everyone happy and safe by taking these simple steps for football injury prevention and if you have any concerns, set up an appointment with a member of our physical therapy team to restore your kid’s strength and mobility. By avoiding injury, your athlete will stay active and healthy all season long!

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