Injuries are prevalent in every sport, but every fall football season brings its own plethora of injuries. UAB Sports Medicine physician, Marshall Crowther, MD, says physicians in his practice treat many patients for football related injuries every year from youth sports up to college age.
As football is a contact sport, traumatic injuries are more common than the overuse injuries that are more likely to occur with other sports. One particular traumatic injury that has garnered a large amount of attention has been concussions, which represent a form of acute, mild traumatic brain injury. With the formation of the concussion clinic at UAB Sports Medicine and Childrens of Alabama, as well as more mandated regulations and state laws passed, awareness of the seriouness of concussions has risen. As such, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of concussions among football players seen in clinic.
“The biggest concerns with concussions are when people develop multiple concussions, or have prolonged symptoms, which in some cases may lead to more long-term problems with memory, concentration, and mood,” says Crowther.
These types of injuries are responsible for disqualifying players from contact sports more than musculoskeletal injuries that can be fixed with surgical techniques and rehab. “The problem with concussions in the brain is you really can’t fix the brain once it is injured,” says Crowther.
Neck injuries are another common issue in football. Crowther says neck inuries they see the most are stingers or burners where nerves in the neck going into the shoulder are stretched as a result of a tackle.
Stingers are much more common, and for the most part are benign injuries. However, they can be associated with pain and prolonged symptoms such as weakness, in which case medical attention is warranted. He says that they preach prevention through proper tackling techniques.
“Keeping the head and neck out of the way when making tackles, especially avoidance of using the crown of the helmet to ‘spear tackle’ players, is critical in hopefully reducing the risk of severe neck injuries, even paralysis,” says Crowther.
Reed Estes, MD, says lower extremity injuries like knee, foot, and ankle injuries are also common in contact sports such as football. “Knee injuries tend to dominate, including ligament tears and cartilage injuries.”
Turf toe, though not a common complaint on the sidelines, is a well-known injury in the sport, which is when a player plants their foot and injures the joint capsule around the big toe. This is usually healed with rest, anti-inflammatory medicine, and inserts in the shoes to suppress the pressure of the joint.
An anterior cruciate ligament tear (ACL) is another common injury in football that is caused when the foot is planted forcibly and the body or torso goes in a different direction causing the lower leg to pull forward against the upper leg tearing the main ligament that stabilizes the knee. It usually requires surgery, followed by rehab therapy.
Estes says that with most injuries they first recommend a period of rest, followed by modifying the patient’s activities, and if necessary rehab and bracing. He says that if there is no other option, surgery is a last resort in some cases.
UAB has joined with Children’s of Alabama’s ER to host a Friday Night Clinic for schools around the Birmingham area. Estes says they have devoted several rooms in which to examine patients and triage them with x-rays on site. A physician, resident, and athletic trainer cover the clinic every Friday.
“It gives the patients access to healthcare that night instead of having to wait until Monday morning or wait in the ER for 4-5 hours to be seen,” says Estes. “I think it has overall been a good service for the community.”