• Football: Safety Tips

    IMAGE Each week during football season, dozens of college and professional players—unbelievably strong individuals who spend much of their lives in the gym—are brought to their knees by crippling injuries. That's the nature of the game—contact football is an injury-ridden sport. However, don't let that scare you away from a Sunday afternoon game of touch football. Here are some tips on playing it safe.

    Weekend Warriors

    "At the professional football level, Monday is not a fun day. It's a demanding game. But even guys [and girls] who play touch on Sundays are running hard and have a fair number of collisions," says Stephen Rice, MD, co-director of the Jersey Shore Sports Medicine Center.
    As with most sports, especially if you haven't been working out to stay in shape, "you run the risk of an injury like a pulled hamstring or a torn Achilles' tendon," says Doug McKeag, MD, chairman of family medicine and director of sports medicine for the Indiana University School of Medicine.
    Recreational football players also tend to have muscle-related problems, like over-stretched or pulled muscles, Rice says. "It comes from doing too much, too suddenly," he explains. And even without a bad strain or pull, your muscles can ache after an hour or two on the field. "Delayed onset muscles soreness is common a day or two after playing." Plus, the collisions that occur even in touch football can lead to bruising.

    Stay in Playing Shape

    The most important thing you can do to avoid these injuries is prepare your body so it doesn't have to do more than it can handle. "Stay in some kind of shape," Rice says. "Maintain flexibility, do aerobic activities, strength activities , and endurance activities."
    Beyond basic fitness, doing sport-specific drills can help prevent a lot of soreness. Try sprints and drills that incorporate lateral movement. "I could go out and run for hours," says Steve Upson, a triathlete who plays in a weekend flag football league. "But it's the stop-and-go and lateral movement that kills me."
    Before doing this kind of drill, of course, make sure you're in decent shape and warmed up well. There's no point in getting injured while you're training to prevent injury.

    Game Day

    When game day arrives, make sure you warm up well. Get your heart rate up with light aerobic activity, then incorporate a little harder running to get your legs completely warmed up and ready to go. If you've had trouble with delayed onset muscle soreness in the past, Rice suggests taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, ibuprofen) if recommended by your doctor. "I do it before and after I play," Rice says. Post-game, make sure you ice down any sore areas.

    Weather

    Be aware that your chances of injury increase with certain weather conditions. In rainy, sloppy weather, you're more likely to fall. "When it's cold, the ground is hard, you'll get a lot more bumped and bruised if you fall," says Dr. McKeag.

    Common Sense

    Playing any sport leaves you at risk to get hurt. It's as simple as that. But that's no reason not to play—what fun is that? In football, as with most sports, there are simple precautions you can take to make the game a little safer:
    • Stay away from concrete. "You don't want to throw the ball out of bounds and into a driveway," says Dr. McKeag.
    • If you wear glasses, make sure they're strapped on.
    • Don't play with a leg brace. It could hurt someone else. If you must wear a brace, Dr. McKeag says, make sure it's covered with adequate padding.
    • Consider arm pads. Some players who know they'll be doing light blocking use this protective option.
    • Warm up well. Make sure you do it or the hard running, sprinting, and changing directions you do on the football field is going to hurt.
    Finding an activity you enjoy like football is a great way to get some physical activity in every week. With common sense and some basic conditioning, you can keep yourself in the game all season!

    RESOURCES

    American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm.org

    American Society of Exercise Physiologists http://www.asep.org/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology http://www.csep.ca/

    Healthy Canadians http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/

    References

    NCAA Sports Sciences. Available at: http://www1.ncaa.org/membership/ed%5Foutreach/health-safety/index.html .

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