By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches managing editor
John J. Leddy, M.D., is a primary care sports physician and clinical professional in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Buffalo. He shared tips about how to avoid common football-related injuries.
- ACL Tears
- Hamstring Injuries
- Shoulder/Rotator Cuff Injuries
- Plantar Fasciitis
- MCL Tears/Sprains
Leddy’s first tip to prevent concussions is to teach proper tackling form. A player is more susceptible to injury when he tackles with his head down or spears the opposition.
“That’s one way to get a concussion,” Leddy said. “Make sure your players follow the rules; that’s most important.”
Leddy also theorized that players with stronger neck muscles and better vision have fewer concussions.
“Players will want to make sure their vision is as good as it can be,” Leddy said. “That’s not an issue for all players, but testing their visual acuity and peripheral vision is important.”
Leddy cited studies on girls’soccer that show that plyometric exercises help reduce incidents of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Those exercises consist of explosive movements like jumping, pivoting and cutting. Leddy believes those exercises build up the muscles around the ACL to help reduce stress on the knee ligament.
“Doing the type of exercises that require landing control after explosive movements may help,” Leddy said. “We see positive results in programs with functional calisthenics as warmup exercises. It helps with neuromuscular coordination. If it works for female soccer players, there’s no reason it couldn’t help male football players.
Leddy stressed the importance of eccentric exercises in training the hamstring. An eccentric exercise includes contractions that involve the shortening and lengthening of a muscle that is still producing force. In terms of hamstring injuries, one such exercise would consist of an athlete kneeling on the ground while a trainer holds his feet and ankles behind him. The athlete would then lean forward and lower himself to the ground in a controlled fashion and then raise himself up in a similar controlled fashion.
“Do that on a regular basis, and you will significantly reduce instances of hamstring pulls,” Leddy said.
SHOULDER/ ROTATOR CUFF INJURIES
Leddy compared quarterbacks to baseball pitchers in that they go through their respective throwing motions thousands of times per season, placing stress on the rotator cuff. in terms of preventing injuries, Leddy said “Prehabilitation” is key.
“In the offseason, a quarterback has to do things to keep the rotator cuff and scapular muscles conditioned and strong,” Leddy said.
“That involves resistance tubing and light-weight exercises with a physical therapist. Build the muscles around the rotator cuff. Push-ups are a good exercise to keep those muscles as strong as possible. It’s the same type of thing as baseball pitchers.”
Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury that affects the sole of the foot. A diagnosis of plantar fasciitis means an athlete has inflamed the tough, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes.
Leddy said these injuries are typically connected to a lack of flexibility in the Achilles tendon or calf. He recommended that players stretch their Achilles tendons and calves by placing two hands against a wall, stepping one foot away from the wall and placing it flat on the ground so the heel is resting on the floor.
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the stabilizing ligament on the inside of the knee (the medial side). It can get injured when a side-bending force is applied to the knee, causing the knee to collapse inward.
Leddy recommends that high school and college football players, particularly linemen, wear MCL braces with lateral flexion to avoid MCL injuries.
“When linemen wear braces, there’s evidence that it reduces injuries,” Leddy said. “There are a couple of studies that show that it’s been effective in college athletics. I feel like most linemen wear them now, and that’s smart.”
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Dan Guttenplan is FNF Coaches senior managing editor. Do you have a thought about this article you would like to share? Send him an email at [email protected], tweet us @fnfcoaches or share it on the Coaches Chat Board.