Football- Common Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Football is one of the most popular sports in America both to watch and to play, especially amongst young athletes. Unfortunately, it is also the leading cause of school sports injuries. In 2012, almost 1.3 million people were treated for football-related injuries in hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and clinics according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Most Common Injuries in Football Players

Injuries can occur both during football games and practice. While overuse injuries can occur, traumatic injuries such as ligament tears and concussions are most common. The force applied to either tackle an opponent or resist getting tackled yourself makes football players prone to injury anywhere on their bodies.

Traumatic Injuries

Traumatic injuries to the head and neck are most serious. A concussion is a change in mental state due to a traumatic impact. Not all those who suffer a concussion will lose consciousness. Some signs that a concussion has been sustained are headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of balance, drowsiness, numbness/tingling, difficulty concentrating, and blurry vision. The athlete should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional.

Knee sprains and tears in football are the most common, especially those to the anterior or posterior cruciate ligament (ACL/PCL) and to the menisci (cartilage of the knee). These can still be very serious injuries that require surgical intervention and can effect a player’s longterm involvement in the sport. Football players also have a higher chance of ankle sprains due to the surfaces played on and cutting motions.

Shoulder injuries are also quite common and the labrum (cartilage bumper surrounding the socket part of the shoulder) is particularly susceptible to injury, especially in offensive and defensive linemen. In addition, injuries to the acromioclavicular joint (ACJ) or shoulder are seen in football players.

Overuse Injuries

Low back pain is the most common complaint amongst football players due to overuse. Patellar tendinitis (knee pain) is a common problem that football players develop and can usually be treated by finding a program that balances the muscles in the legs.

Dehydration and Heat Stroke

Overheating and dehydration are most common during pre-season in August because of the high heat and humidity. The earliest symptoms are painful cramping often in the legs. However, if not treated with body cooling and fluid replacement, this can progress to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can even result in death. It is important for football players to be aware of the need for fluid replacement and to inform medical staff of symptoms of heat injury.



Stay in Shape

Cross-train year round. Taking the whole summer off can make the body more susceptible to injury when returned to training.

Get Your Physical

All players should have a pre-season physical to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation. Having an exam by a sports medicine specialist can also predict future injuries and get you on a program to prevent them.

Warm Up, Cool Down, Stretch

Always take time to warm up with jumping jacks, running, or walking in place for 3 to 5 minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch your hips, knees, thighs and calves.  Then after training, be sure to stretch after each training practice to reduce your risk for injury.


Even mild levels of dehydration can hurt athletic performance. If you have not had enough fluids, your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation. Athletes should be drinking water throughout the day, approximately 8 cups.  You can calculate your needs by dividing your body weight by two and drinking that amount in ounces. (If you weight 128 lbs, drink 64 ounces of water which is 8 cups). Take frequent breaks while training to drink more water or sports drink.

Wear Proper equipment

According to Pop Warner Football Official Rule Book, players should have the following protective gear:

  • Helmet
  • Shoulder pads, hip pads, tail pads, knee pads
  • Pants (one piece or shell)
  • Thigh guards
  • Jersey
  • Mouth guard (A keeper strap is required.)
  • Athletic supporter
  • Shoes (In some leagues, players can wear sneakers or non-detachable, rubber cleated shoes. Detachable cleats of a soft-composition also are allowed in some leagues. Check with your coach about the type of shoe allowed in your league.)
  • If eyeglasses must be worn by a player, they should be of approved construction with non-shattering glass (safety glass). Contact lenses also can be worn.


Speak with a sports medicine professional (like me) or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about football injuries or football injury prevention strategies.  Dr. Rachel’s football prehab program is run by Chris Bockius, Master in Sports and Rehabilitation and football expert.