Football is arguably the most popular sport in the world with more than 265 million participants around the globe according to the 2015 FIFA Big Count. There are an estimated four billion football fans. Even in America where it is not a traditional sport, the number of players has been steadily growing and now stands at over 24 million making it the third most played team sport in that country.
However, football is a tough, physical sport and outfield players can run an average of 7 miles in a match with some midfielders covering as much as 9.5 miles. As well as a high level of fitness, players need the strength to tackle and the skill to evade tackles. But as a highly competitive contact sport there are frequent injuries sustained, from minor knocks that the “magic spray” will cure to serious damage with longer-term effects.
In the professional game, there are strict training and diet regimes watched over by the coaches. When players get injured, the clubs have medics and physios who treat them and monitor their recovery. A player doesn’t get back on the pitch until the club doctor says they are fit to do so.
But, for the millions of amateur players who play every weekend, it is generally their own decision as to when they return to the game after being injured. Frequently, players go back to playing before they are fully recovered which often results in overuse injuries. Repetitive injuries are especially dangerous when they involve head trauma.
Strains and Tear Injuries
Because of the nature of the game the most common injuries to outfield players are to the lower body, with a third caused by overuse through not giving an injury sufficient time to recover. Injuries to the soft tissues like ligaments, tendons and muscles are frequently incurred through turning, overstretching and changing direction suddenly.
Hamstring injuries affect the back of the thigh. A minor strain might just need a few day’s rest, but a tear to the muscle can involve months of recovery.
Knee injuries in football are very common and one of the most serious is to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This used to be a career ending injury for the player, but advances in medicine mean that with surgery they can play again, although they could be out of the game for a year.
A meniscus tear is damage to the cartilage in the knee which can sideline a player for around eight weeks. A more serious tear may need surgery meaning many months of being unable to play.
Overstretching when going for the ball, sprinting or twisting can result in a groin strain or hernia. This is another injury which, in the more serious cases, could mean months out of action. However, the recovery time has been much reduced by improved surgical procedure.
Trauma injuries are mostly caused by collisions with other players or falls. These could be minor cuts or bruises or, in the worst cases, fractures to the legs. In the thick of the action where players are contesting high balls there can be a clash of heads which could cause concussion.
In the penalty area, goalkeepers literally throw themselves in harm’s way and risk clashing with players, the ground and even the goal posts. In 2006, Petr Cech, who then played for Chelsea, suffered a fractured skull while diving at a forward’s feet. The injury was life threatening but he recovered after surgery. He now has to wear a protective helmet during matches.
Concussion is temporary damage to the brain which can be the result of a clash of heads. A player who is in a heavy collision which causes severe shaking of the head can also suffer a concussion. It is not an uncommon injury and most players make a complete recovery. The danger lies in the condition not being quickly diagnosed and treated correctly.
As with any other trauma injury, a concussion needs time to heal and the player will need complete rest, mental as well as physical, until the symptoms have gone completely. Their return to training should be gradual, initially with no heading of the ball or tackling. If a player starts back too soon there is a chance of a secondary or repetitive concussion which are believed to cause long-term and possibly life-changing damage in later life.
If you suspect a player might have concussion but carries on playing, you should inform the referee. Signs of concussion could be confusion, a blank stare, being distracted or not playing as well as normal.
It has been shown that the older a player gets, the more susceptible they are to injuries, particularly those to the soft tissues as they lose elasticity. Consequently, there are far fewer injuries in youth football than in the adult game.
But training for children and young teens has to be geared differently because their bones are still forming and growing and they can’t take the same stresses as adult bones. If young people are pushed too hard it can do lasting damage. Fitness, flexibility and form can be worked on, but weights can wait. A varied training routine will provide the best long-term, all-round fitness.
It is especially important that if youths do suffer injury they take enough time out to rest and recover so that the problem isn’t compounded.
If you sustain a serious sports injury such as head trauma and you believe it is due to negligence on the part of the referee or a reckless challenge by another player you might be able to make a claim against them. It is a difficult procedure as playing sport brings with it the inherent risk of injury. The onus will be on you to provide evidence to prove the negligence, so witness statements should be taken. A team of legal experts specialising in personal injury will advise you on the process of making a claim for a head injury.