A guide to preventing injuries in football

Football is popular across the UK with people of all ages — but that doesn’t mean the sport is without its dangers. Just look at all the professional players that miss months of matches due to strains, sprains and other injuries.

If you want to avoid the pain and missed training that come with a football injury, we’ve outlined the most prevalent injuries that can see you out of action for several games and detailed how you can reduce the risk of an injury for an all-round better on-pitch performance…

Ankle: sprain

A sprained ankle is exceptionally painful, but unfortunately, it’s a common injury for footballers. According to the CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), approximately 70-85% of these injuries are ‘inversion’ sprains, which means the ankle has been turned inwards — common when tackling and dribbling the ball. If you’re looking to reduce the risk of a sprained ankle, try and do these exercises three times a week:

  • Shin raises (lifting your toes, rather than your heels, off the ground).
  • Calf raises.
  • Ankle circles (both clockwise and anti-clockwise).

Hamstring: pulled/torn

Your hamstring is worked hard during football. Found in the back of the leg, sometimes your hamstring muscles can overstretch, resulting in pain, as well as bruising and swelling. If you tear your hamstring, you could be out of action for a while, however, if you simply pull your hamstring, you should be fine to continue.

If you have an issue with your back already, you may want to take extra care with regard to damaging your hamstring. Reportedly, people with existing back issues are more susceptible to strained hamstrings, so loosen your back with exercises such as lumbar rotation stretches (lying on the floor and rolling your knees from side to side). Basic glute stretches will ease muscles around your hips, while yoga will help you stay flexible, which will lower the risk of hamstring strain. Squats, lunges and hamstring kicks are also great preventative exercises, as they work to strengthen the hamstring muscles.

The Nordic ham curl is another top exercise — here’s how to do it:

  • Kneel on the floor.
  • Hook your feet under something sturdy and heavy that can take your weight or ask a partner to hold your feet to act as an anchor.
  • Breathe deeply, engage your core and slowly lower yourself to the ground, using your hamstrings to keep your body straight.
  • After reaching the ground, push yourself up and repeat.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): ruptured

Your ACL is partly responsible for the stability of your knee, so it’s important to safeguard it. However, it’s often damaged by the twisting and turning of the leg, which means it’s a common injury for football players. If you hurt your ACL, it’ll be painful and you’ll likely see swelling around the area. But before then, you may hear and feel it pop or snap…

The best way to safeguard your ACL is to make sure your leg muscles are as strong as possible to alleviate strain. According to HSS, Hospital for Special Surgery, you should do plenty of leg stretches like squats and walking lunges. Having good balance — or proprioception — is vital if you want to avoid injuring your ACL too, so practice standing on one leg (30 seconds on each) regularly to boost your stability. These exercises also help prevent injuries to your menisci, which are cartilages that protect the knee joint.

Groin: strain

Groin injuries are exceptionally common in football and many professional players miss games due to strains in this part of the body. If you strain your groin, you’ve basically over-extended your abductor muscles, found in your inner thigh. A slight strain will often cause some pain, however, serious groin strain injuries can impede on your ability to walk and run, which is a serious flaw for a football player.

The key to preventing groin strains: warm-ups. Make sure you stretch your inner and outer thigh muscles daily and see if you can also get regular sports therapy or massage treatments to keep these muscles flexible. A strong core enhances pelvic stability, which will also reduce the chance of groin strains, so do plenty of planks and crunches as part of your basic workout routine. Resistance bands are also very handy for strengthening your inner thigh muscles and preventing groin strain.

Preparing before a game

As with any sport, any sudden movement puts immense stress on your muscles, leaving them open to injury. According to a scientific study, taking part in a structured warm-up is effective at stopping players from suffering common football injuries and can reportedly even lower these by approximately 33%.

Warm-ups help blood reach your main muscles, which prepares them for the physical activity ahead. Here’s a top warm-up session to help you prepare your tendons, ligaments and muscles for a good performance:

5 minutes: jogging and side-stepping to boost your core temperature.

15 minutes: stretching, focusing on your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, lower back, calves, Achilles tendon, and hip flexors. You should hold your stretch for ten seconds every time.

10 minutes: mimicking football movements without a ball including high kicks, squats, jumps, and side-foot passes.

10 minutes: practicing shooting, heading, passing, and dribbling as a team with a football.

Have you also considered your diet and how it could affect your fitness levels? It’s recommended that you eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates — including eggs, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, turkey and salmon — to build muscle and deliver energy. Also, lower your alcohol intake — it dehydrates you and leaves your muscles more susceptible to cramping and injury.

For added nutrition to help you excel, you could also start taking nutritional supplements — although, if you’re unsure which to go for, we suggest checking with a healthcare professional first. Try vitamin D3 that can help strengthen your bones and muscles, according to some scientific studies, or vitamin C which can alleviate muscle soreness.

Maintain a high performance with each game by incorporating the above tips into your footballing regime.