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Football Frenzy: The Five Most Common Injuries

Fall kicks off the start of football pandemonium, and subsequently, the number of football-related injuries that I see. Many of my high school and college football players and their parents have questions about this sport’s more common injuries. Below is a brief review of those injuries and their treatment options. 

CONCUSSIONS - A concussion is a head injury that results in a traumatic injury to the brain. The most important aspect of the initial treatment of a concussion is to have the player properly examined, hopefully by the team physician. Usually the athlete is not knocked unconscious. However, if they are, it typically signifies a more serious injury. The initial assessment focuses on the player’s mental status, which includes headaches, memory loss, and visual and neurological problems. While symptoms are not usually severe, they can be concerning, particularly if they do not resolve quickly. In these situations, follow-up exams are critically important.

In my experience, there is always a lot of confusion regarding concussions, especially determining when an athlete can return to play during the same game. An athlete will often argue that once he feels “normal,” he should be allowed to play. This is an area of significant controversy in orthopaedic literature, but it is my professional opinion that it is always better to err on the side of conservatism and keep the athlete out of the game if there is any doubt. Mainly, this is to reduce the risk of secondary impact syndrome, which can occur when an individual who has had a recent concussion sustains another head injury. This can cause a very serious brain injury and, therefore, I encourage all parents and players to understand that physicians have to put the health of the athlete above the interests of the team.

ACL – The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a key stabilizing structure to the knee and is perhaps the most commonly feared knee injury because it results in the athlete sitting out the rest of the season. It usually requires surgery to reconstruct the torn ligament. Often, this occurs during a deceleration, non-contact injury. It often can take a full year to recover.

Meniscal Tear – The meniscus or cartilage in the knee can also be injured during noncontact and contact injuries. Unlike the ACL, these injuries can sometimes be treated without surgery in younger individuals and the athlete often doesn’t have to miss the entire season.

Achilles Tendon – The Achilles tendon connects the large muscles of the calf to the heel bone. When an athlete tears this tendon, they usually cannot play for the rest of the season. Surgery usually is performed and the total rehab process lasts six to eight months.

Rotator Cuff Injury – The rotator cuff is a collection of four muscles that help to power the shoulder. They are most often injured when a football player attempts to make a tackle and has the opposing player “run through” it, causing a sudden jerking injury to the shoulder. If the rotator cuff is sprained (not torn), then the player can return to play at some point in the season after rehab. If completely torn, then either non-operative or surgical repair is needed, and the player will most likely have to sit out the season.