The Premier League is back in full flow following a summer jam-packed with exciting World Cup action. But, winter pitches can often be a dangerous place, with professional players missing months of matches due to strains, sprains and other injuries.
So, how can you prevent injuries when you’re going in for a tackle or taking on the opposition? Here, we’ve outlined some of the most prevalent injuries that can see you out of action for several games, and detailed how you can work to reduce the risk for an all-round safer and better on-pitch performance…
Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
There are four ligaments that maintain your knee’s stability and your ACL is one of them. However, it’s often damaged by the twisting and turning of the leg, which means it’s a common injury for football players. If you hurt your ACL, it’ll be painful and you’ll likely see swelling around the area. But before then, you may hear and feel it pop or snap…
To prevent injury to your ACL, try to build up the muscles around your knee. These include the hamstrings and quadriceps. According to HSS, Hospital for Special Surgery, you should do plenty of leg stretches like squats and walking lunges. Having good balance — or proprioception — is vital if you want to avoid injuring your ACL too, so practice standing on one leg (30 seconds on each) regularly to boost your stability. These exercises also help prevent injuries to your menisci, which are cartilages that protect the knee joint.
Pulled or torn hamstring
Your hamstring, which is the muscle found at the back of your thigh which runs from the hip to the knee, is often overstretched, resulting in pain at the back of the leg. You’ll also find that it bruises and swells up. If you tear your hamstring, you could be out of action for a while, however, if you simply pull your hamstring, you should be fine to continue.
A torn hamstring often involves swelling, bruising and a lot of pain. Reportedly, people with existing back issues are more susceptible to strained hamstrings, so to avoid this injury, loosen your back with exercises such as lumbar rotation stretches (lying on the floor and rolling your knees from side to side). Basic glute stretches will ease muscles around your hips, while yoga will help you stay flexible, which will lower the risk of hamstring strain. Squats, lunges and hamstring kicks are also great preventative exercises, as they work to strengthen the hamstring muscles.
The Nordic ham curl is one of the best exercises to avoid hamstring injuries. Here’s how to do it:
· Kneel on the floor.
· Hook your feet under something sturdy and heavy that can take your weight or ask a partner to hold your feet to act as an anchor.
· Breathe deeply, engage your core and slowly lower yourself to the ground, using your hamstrings to keep your body straight.
· After reaching the ground, push yourself up and repeat.
In spraining your ankle, you damage the soft tissue in the ligaments in this part of your foot. According to the CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), approximately 70-85% of these injuries are ‘inversion’ sprains, which means the ankle has been turned inwards — common when tackling and dribbling the ball.
To reduce the risk of a sprained ankle, try and do these exercises three times a week:
· Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).
· Calf raises.
· Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
If you stretch for a ball, you risk injuring your groin. If you strain your groin, you’ve basically over-extended your abductor muscles, found in your inner thigh. A slight strain will often cause some pain, however, serious groin strain injuries can impede on your ability to walk and run, which is a serious flaw for a football player.
It’s crucial to warm up correctly to avoid a strained groin. Make sure you stretch your inner and outer thigh muscles daily and see if you can also get regular sports therapy or massage treatments to keep these muscles flexible. A strong core enhances pelvic stability, which will also reduce the chance of groin strains, so do plenty of planks and crunches as part of your basic workout routine. Resistance bands are also very handy for strengthening your inner thigh muscles and preventing groin strain.
How to prepare before a match
If you suddenly use a muscle to undergo a new movement, you risk strains and injuries. According to a scientific study, taking part in a structured warm-up is effective at stopping players from suffering common football injuries and can reportedly even lower these by approximately 33%.
So, to avoid the danger of a football injury is to stretch and carry out short in the best possible way, cardiovascular exercises to get blood flowing to your muscles before every match. Here’s a top warm-up session to help you prepare your tendons, ligaments and muscles for a good performance:
5 minutes: jogging and side-stepping to boost your core temperature.
15 minutes: stretching, focusing on your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, lower back, calves, Achilles tendon, and hip flexors. You should hold your stretch for ten seconds every time.
10 minutes: mimicking football movements without a ball including high kicks, squats, jumps, and side-foot passes.
10 minutes: practicing shooting, heading, passing, and dribbling as a team with a football.
As a footballer, your diet is important to make sure you have a good level of fitness. Eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates — including eggs, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, turkey and salmon — to build muscle and deliver energy. Also, lower your alcohol intake — it dehydrates you and leaves your muscles more susceptible to cramping and injury.
Why not try to incorporate nutritional supplements to help prevent injury, aid recovery and improve performance? For example, vitamin D can help strengthen your bones and muscles, according to some scientific studies, while omega 3 may protect your tissues from damage and vitamin C could alleviate muscle soreness. Ubiquinol is also a way to boost cellular energy production.
By incorporating the above exercises and tips into your regular football regime, you will have a better chance of not missing out on crucial games of the season.