Being injured is the most frustrating part of playing football, wether that be due to an ankle sprain or something more serious like an ACL rupture or a broken leg. There's nothing worse than standing on the sidelines while the league carries on without you.
While you can't avoid all injuries (you can't help other players flying into you!) there is plenty you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting a lot of them.
As a sports physiotherapist, I'm in a pretty good position to give you some advice to prevent injuries. And I've worked in the Premier League and Football League and seen first hand how it reduced non-impact injuries. So how can you avoid football injuries? Read on.
1. Warm up correctly
Let's get the boring one out the way first. We all know we need to warm up properly. I'd like to think you wouldn't turn up 5 minutes before kick off and go straight into a game. You should always do a warm up of some sort. This should involve a steady increase in intensity and include movements you are likely to do in a game, finishing with some ball work to get you used to the technical aspects of playing. As a general rule, a decent warm up template might be:
- Light jogging & dynamic stretches
- Static stretches
- Increased intensity jogging & dynamics
- High intensity running/sprints
- Ball work
You can also include soft tissue massage and mobilisations if you're playing at a level that has a physio/therapist to hand.
2. Nutrition & hydration
I would argue these are some of the most important things to consider in terms of injury prevention and something you might not think about. I've spoken before about the detrimental effects of being dehydrated on performance. As little as 1% dehydration can massively reduce your performance levels.
But more specific to injury, your body doesn't function as well when it's not correctly fuelled. Water and nutrients are needed for muscle contractions and body functions such as running, jumping etc. If you don't have enough in your system, your body cannot function optimally and there is a higher risk of you getting injured.
So make sure you have had plenty to drink the night before and morning of a game; and have a balanced breakfast at least 3/4 hours before, ideally full of carbs.
3. Consider recovery and monitor fatigue
Probably the most important point here. How many times do you see professional footballers get injured during the winter where the fixtures are congested and they are playing 3 games per week?
This is usually because they have not full recovered from the previous games before and play again.
There are several recovery strategies you can implement to help your body get over a game and prepare for the next one. Nutrition and hydration are important here too. You should replace the fluids and electrolytes you lost in a game with an isotonic drink like a Lucozade. You should also eat a high protein and carbohydrate meal afterwards to help your muscles repair.
Other football recovery methods could include:
- Sports massage - especially on the legs
- Foam rolling and stretching main muscle groups used during football (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves)
- Compression leggings
- Cryotherapy (ice baths etc)
- Low intensity exercise to aid blood flow and flush toxins - such as cycling or going for a walk
A combination of all of these methods help your muscles recover for the next game. But if you are still feeling any muscle soreness when it comes to training or match day, then it might be worth resting.
4. Sport specific strength training
My personal favourite for long term injury prevention is strength training, as long as it's specific to football.
Usually if you become injured, it's because your muscles/ligaments/tendons can't cope with the demands of the game. For example if you have a weakness in one of your hamstrings for whatever reason, you are more likely to suffer from a hamstring injury during football. Especially during accelerating/decelerating to and from sprints.
Increasing the strength and power of your body especially in movements that you will perform during football increase your bodies robustness to the demands and forces put through your joints during a game.
A solid football specific gym programme should include compound exercises split across strength and power rep ranges. It might vary depending on what time of the season you are training but you can still train to some extent all year round - just be aware of over training and causing muscle soreness between games if strength training during the season.
I would advise speaking to a strength and conditioning coach to write you a bespoke football training programme to suit your needs but generally speaking the following exercises are great for football:
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Hip Thrusts
- Box Jumps
- Hex Bar Deadlifts
Again it depends what level and position you play as the demands of the game vary - you wouldn't want a winger to be doing the same exercises as a goalkeeper! You can also add some other exercises in specific to help injury prevention like jumping/landing on a Bosu ball to help improve proprioception - I could write a whole set of blog posts on exercises for injury prevention in football but that's a pretty good overview.
5. Wear the correct kit
Again this depends on what time of the season it is. Wearing shin pads is a must-do all year round but things like football boot type is quite important, especially playing in England when the weather can vary quite a bit. Studs give you extra grip during the winter months when the weather is a little more wet and the ground is soft. You don't want to be slipping about because that not only reduces your running efficiency but can also lead to injuries for obvious reasons.
Moulded boots help in the warmer, drier months when the ground is hard or if you're playing on artificial grass. Wearing studs on this surface could lead to your feet getting stuck and potentially twisting injuries.
Another simple hack you can use to improve your performance at any level is to wear grip socks (shameless plug). Benefits of grip socks include obviously improved grip so your feet don't slip around in your boots. Kit socks are typically pretty naff because they're mass-produced and the football club don't want to spend much on them so they won't pay for high quality socks just to get muddy and ripped. The fact they don't slip around also helps to prevent blisters too. This might seem pretty minor but if you're playing a lot of football, blisters don't get the chance to heal and they can last a long time. They're pretty sore too!
Grippy Sports Football Grip Socks are on sale now in white, black, blue and red. You can mix and match a 3 pack for just £20 (30% off!) they arrive in 3-5 days too with standard shipping.
Ps, they were recently worn by Darwin Nuñez when Liverpool played Everton at Goodison Park (Google it if you don't believe us) so they're clearly pretty good!!
Order yourself a pack below!