As many as 1.5 million young men participate in American football in the United States. An estimated 1.2 million football-related injuries are sustained annually. Since the 1970s epidemiological studies have shown that the risk of injury is higher in older athletes and lower in teams with more experienced coaches and more assistant coaches. 51% of injuries occurred at training; contact sessions were 4.7 times more likely to produce injuries than controlled sessions. Injury rates were reduced by wearing shorter cleats and preseason conditioning.
Overall, lower extremity injuries accounted for 50% of all injuries (with knee injuries accounting for up to 36%). Upper extremity injuries accounted for 30%. In general, sprains and strains account for 40% of injuries, contusions 25%, fractures 10%, concussions 5% and dislocations 15%.
Cervical spine injuries have the potential to be catastrophic, but they declined dramatically in the decade 1975 to 1984, due to the impact of rule changes modifying tackling and blocking techniques and improved fitness, equipment and coaching. Appropriate diagnostic evaluation of cervical injuries is mandatory.
The evidence supporting prophylactic knee bracing is not compelling and does not mandate compulsory or routine use.
Return to play criteria include: full range of motion; normal strength; normal neurological evaluation; no joint swelling or instability; ability to run and sustain contact without pain; no intake of pain medication; player education about preventive measures and future risks. These criteria should be strictly observed.
In addition to ankle and knee rehabilitation, lumbar spine injuries present a challenge for the physician. Repetitive flexion, extension and torsional stresses predispose the lumbar spine to injury. Rehabilitation consists of pain control and training. The training phase aims to eliminate repetitive injuries by minimising stress at the intervertebral joint.
Football is a high risk sport. Coaches, players, trainers and physicians must all become aware of the proper means to prevent injuries.
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