Football has long been a popular pastime in America, especially here in the South. Generations upon generations have participated in the beloved game. Approximately 2.8 million children ages 6-14, play organized youth tackle football, placing it among the most popular youth sports in the U.S. The sport has been played for many years by countless individuals; but recent studies, specifically on concussion, from the mainstream have called into question the safety of the game. This brings to light very important questions including: Is this game safe for our youth to participate; and if not, what can be done to make the game safer or prevent injuries?
In order to understand how to prevent injuries, it is important to know what the most common injuries and complaints are among football players. By far, contusions, sprains of the knee, and sprains of the ankle are most common followed by general muscles strains and cramps. Overuse injuries such as low back pain and tendonitis are also common complaints. As football is in high impact sport at times, dislocations of the hip and shoulder can occur, along with serious knee injuries such as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. Heat injuries including heat exhaustion and even heat stroke are also of concern, especially at the beginning of a season when the body may not be acclimated to the heat. Of growing concern are concussion injuries. While our understanding of these injuries is not complete at this time, countless hours of research are being done to recognize the immediate and long lasting effects of this type of injury.
Obviously the best way to treat an injury is to never have one occur. It is imperative to appreciate steps that can be taken in all levels of football participation to prevent injury. All individuals participating in football should have a pre-season physical to determine readiness to play and also uncover any conditions that may limit participation. While getting started in participation it is important to maintain fitness over the summer prior to involvement; always maintain good warm up and stretching techniques, and stay hydrated especially in the beginning of practices. Properly fitting equipment and tackling techniques are also paramount in preventing injuries. USA football, the sport’s national governing body, has made a tremendous push in the past few years on the injury prevention front. The website is loaded with information for parents, players, and coaches. Some of the information includes concussion awareness forums, safety and injury prevention tips, and information of safe and appropriate tackling in what is called the “Heads Up” campaign. You can visit their website at usafootball.com for information on all these topics and more.
So with all this new information available regarding football injuries, the most basic question remains is this sport safe for our youth. Thankfully, it appears that the efforts of USA football in educating coaches and players have made a difference. Preliminary results of a study commissioned in 2012 following approximately 2,000 youth football participants on nearly 100 teams in 6 states show encouraging results. First year findings of nearly 60,000 individual athlete exposures revealed that greater than 90 percent of participants did not suffer an injury that restricted participation. Of the players that had an injury, contusion (bruising) and sprains were the most common with 64 percent of injured players able to return the same day. Fewer than 4 percent of athletes sustained a concussion and there were no catastrophic head or neck injuries. These studies demonstrate that the steps USA football is taking to educate players, parents, and coaches on safe practices is making a difference.
As summer fades into fall, we know this signals the beginning of football season. Recent attention in the media to serious injuries that can occur during football have raised questions and concerns regarding the safety of our youth participating in this sport. While football is a contact sport and injuries can invariably occur, it is vital to recognize steps that can be taken to minimize and even prevent serious injury. Among these include proper warm ups, hydrating, proper equipment, and most importantly educating ourselves on proper techniques. As a former player and now father of three young children myself, I am encouraged by the efforts to make this great game as safe as possible for our youth.