Football is one of our favorite sports, and with the Giants’ and the Jets’ seasons kicking off in September, there has never been a better time to get excited. But winning glory in the game often comes at an extraordinary cost, with some of the nastiest injuries of any professional sport being common on the field. So this week we are talking about Football injuries and the huge steps medicine has made in helping to deal with these.
One of the most common injuries – both in football and other running and cutting sports – is a non-contact ACL tear. The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is one of the four main ligaments in the knee and is largely responsible for the knee’s ability to bend and flex. If you are a Weekend Warrior who enjoys playing sport in their own time, an ACL injury will normally be dealt with through physiotherapy, regenerative medicine, interventions and sometimes steroids to help with the pain. If you are a professional athlete whose pay check is dependent on you getting back on the field… the only real option is surgery. Whereas in a non-professional, surgery is reasonable option, in a high-end athlete, surgery to repair an ACL tear will result in more stability and a more structurally-sound knee meaning you will be able to get back out there and, hopefully, play as well as you did before.
Ten years ago, an ACL-tear was generally believed to be a “career-ender”. For many players – especially those nearing their 30s – even if they recovered, their performance did not. Now, developments in medicine have meant that some pro athletes not only get back to the level they were at before injury, but sometimes even surpass it, going on to have the best performances of their lives post-recovery.
A great deal of this is attributable to the fact that athletes have an innate healing ability superior to that of a normal human. They also spend many hours a day with physiotherapists and personal trainers, working on their body and their health. However, a lot of it is down to the fact the surgeries have improved, the rehab process has improved, and our whole approach to pre-hab and re-hab has changed.
We have known for a long time that strength training alone tightens muscles – it may be important for power and strength but, without the flexibility to go along with it, strength training greatly increases your risk of injury. In the past the trend was muscle bulking, but now more focus is being placed on the importance of stretching, on lengthening muscles and increasing flexibility – a philosophy which has been repackaged as a fitness program by athletes like Tom Brady with TB12.
Of course, there are some football injuries which no amount of strength-training and stretching will protect you from, such as the infamous CTE. Discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu in the early 2000s, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease resulting from frequent and/or severe head trauma. The symptoms can include dizziness, disorientation, dementia, social instability, and even an impulse for suicide. As it is, we still do not have a great understanding as to the exact causes of CTE – whether it is the frequency of head trauma, the severity of the head trauma, the time elapsed between a first and second concussion etc. – but new ways to monitor and appropriate treatments for CTE are developing all the time.
And is not only the head which is at risk, but the neck and spine too. Football players, who are prone to getting hit hard in the cervical region, often experience what are known as “Stingers”. These involve a compression of the nerves causing intermittent shooting pains. Although unpleasant, Stingers generally pass and tend not to be a cause for concern, but injuries to the neck can often be more serious. In the case of Peyton Manning, who suffered from a narrowing of the spine, neck injuries can be enough to put an athlete out of play for a significant amount of time.
Although football continues to be one of the more dangerous competitive sports, the leaps in medical science mean that we may see fewer career-damaging or career-ending injuries in the future.