How to avoid a painful football injury

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As local teams kick off their seasons, St. Elizabeth Healthcare looks at fall high school sports and what athletes, coaches and parents should know to stay healthy and optimize performance. We’ve covered cross country and soccer. Today: Football.

 

Key dates

Kentucky:

  • First competition Aug. 19;
  • Postseason begins Nov. 4;
  • State championship games Dec. 2-4.

Ohio:

  • First competition week of Aug. 22-28;
  • Postseason begins Nov. 4;
  • State semifinals Nov. 25-26;
  • State championships Dec. 1-3.

 

Common injuries

In football, you see them all, from head to (turf) toe. Starting at the top, concussions in football have been such a hot-button topic lately, and that’s a good thing. Awareness among coaches, staff, parents and players themselves has never been higher.

Shoulder separations, “stingers,” and knee and ankle injuries also keep doctors and trainers busy in the fall. In the early part of the season, when days are still scorching, scrutiny must be given to potential heat illness and exhaustion. Perhaps surprisingly, given the amount of contact in football, fractures are not among the more common injuries seen, said Dr. Tyler Browning of St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine.

 

Ounce of prevention

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends these precautions to prevent or minimize many high school football injuries:

  • Ensuring good fitness before participating
  • Warm-up properly before practices and games
  • Cool-down and stretching after practices and games
  • Hydrate before practices and games, during practices and games, and replenish fluids afterward.
  • Equipment: Make sure all gear, including helmet, shoulder pads, knee pads, hip pads, tail pads, thigh pads, athletic supporter, mouth guard and shoes fit properly and are worn and used properly.

 

Pound of cure

For concussions, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association mandates a strict protocol as to who can diagnose a concussion in-game or clear a player to return, and a stepwise protocol to be followed before players diagnosed with concussions can return to practices or games.

Sprains and strains are treated with the familiar RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories if needed. A shoulder separation “is a pretty scary phrase for what can be a fairly mild injury,” Browning said. A separated shoulder actually involves the ligaments between the collarbone and shoulder blade, and usually can be treated with rest, ice and anti-inflammatories; only in extreme cases is surgery considered, Browning said.

More serious (and painful) is a dislocated shoulder, in which the upper arm bone pops out of the socket. A doctor may try to maneuver the bone back into place, using muscle relaxants or anesthesia if pain demands it. Stingers, in which nerves in the neck are stretched or compressed, can cause tingling down shoulders and arms. In most cases, symptoms go away within minutes and the player can return. In more severe cases, such as lingering neck pain, players shouldn’t return to activity until all symptoms subside.

 

The last word

Browning follows these parameters before clearing an injured athlete: ninety percent strength in the injured area; full range of motion; minimal, or controllable, pain; and a fourth parameter he sees as no less vital. “Is the athlete there mentally?” he said. “That’s a big part of coming back. I’ll play the bad guy if I have to and an athlete just isn’t ready.”

 

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