To keep your pigskin pastime as safe as possible, here are some injury prevention and conditioning tips from Dr. Fred Cushner, an orthopedic surgeon at the Insall Scott Kelly Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
"Competitive football requires strength, speed, agility and endurance that are attainable through proper conditioning and exercise," Cushner says.Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur most often in non-contact situations and can occur when a football player is hit from behind. The ACL is the knee's primary stabilizer.
It can be difficult to prevent ACL injuries, but stretching before and after exercise can make your knees more flexible and better able to respond to stress. Cushner also suggests a strengthening program for your knee and upper leg muscles, and says wearing shorter cleats lets your knees rotate and move more freely.
Ankle sprains are another common football injury that can happen when you roll a foot too far inward or outward, get stepped on by another player, or land awkwardly after you jump to make a catch. Strengthening your calf muscles can help protect your ankles.
Hamstring and quadricep muscle strains are often caused by repeated movements or by not getting enough rest while doing sports and other activities. These injuries occur most often when a muscle is tired or weak.
Doing a proper warm-up before a game or practice can prevent such muscle strains. You should stretch and jog until you break a sweat, Cushner says. Also, you should wear properly fitted, padded football pants and hip and thigh pads.
Ribs are particularly susceptible to bruises and fractures when you play football. Cushner says many players wear a padded flak jacket under their shoulder pads to reduce the risk of rib injury.
Finally, drink enough fluids to keep you hydrated. That could help prevent fatigue and injury.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some tips about preventing injuries.