Preventing Injuries and Improving Performance in Football
Why is the warmup and cooldown so important?
The warm-up prepares the body for exercise and should be tailored for the specific exercise that will be undertaken. For football, both general and specific exercises should be performed.
The warm up may involve
- General exercise jogging or cycling for 5-10 minutes to warm the muscles and enhance circulation in preparation for stretching
- Gentle static stretching of key muscle groups such as the hamstrings, calves and hip flexors which are held for 20-30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times. It is also important to stretch/mobilise the spine gently, especially the ‘twisting’ movement.
- Low level resistance exercises to ‘wake up’ important core stabilising muscles which will help support the back, hips and legs during training.
- Once the muscles are well warmed up, more vigorous dynamic stretches can be performed carefully under supervision of the coach so as to avoid injury.
The cool down is important to safely restore the body back to its resting state. This may include:
- General exercises such as light jogging or cycling and static stretching as described above to help prevent post exercise muscle stiffness and soreness.
Why is strength conditioning important to prevent injuries and optimise performance?
Strength and conditioning (S&C) physically prepares the body for the demands of the sport. It includes all forms of resistance/strength work and also agility, endurance, speed and flexibility training. It can help to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury by improving functional movement. Specific exercises should be related to football and will primarily focus on the lower body such as running drills, lower limb strength and balance work (see FIFA 11+ for examples). These exercises should ideally be done in the gym at a under supervision of a certified trainer or chartered physiotherapist initially and then at home once safe and effective technique has been taught. These S&C exercises are used as essential ‘background’ training to prevent injury and improve sports performance.
The role of nutrition
Good nutrition is essential in order for the body to function properly. It is particularly important in growing children who are very active, as they need to have the right nutrients to meet their daily energy, growth and recovery demands. A healthy diet will consist of adequate amounts of quality protein, fats and complex/Low GI carbohydrates (avoiding sugar, highly processed grains e.g. white bread/pasta etc. which contribute to weight gain and obesity) for energy, growth and repair. Essential vitamins (e.g. Vitamin C and B’s) and minerals (e.g. magnesium and calcium) are important for energy, repair and to support the immune system. A healthy diet is normally sufficient to provide these vitamins and minerals. Hydration is also important, particularly in active individuals who will need to replenish fluid loss. Guidelines suggest drinking only water when thirsty and only enough to quench the thirst. Drinking Lucozade or other sugary drinks is not currently recommended and may contribute to weight gain and obesity by providing more sugar than a well-nourished body needs. For specific nutritional requirements, please consult a registered nutritionist or dietician.
The role of psychology
The pressure and stress of sporting competition can affect sports people mentally and physically. It is common for our children to become anxious about their performance and the outcome of the competition. It is important that they are encouraged to relax before such events and focus their attention in a positive manner. Parents and coaches have a huge influence on how a child develops in sport and it is imperative that they help them to develop the self-confidence and self-control to enjoy the game to its fullest.
The role of flexibility?
Flexibility refers to the range of motion in a joint and also the muscle length. Inadequate flexibility can lead to dysfunction in joints and soft tissues. Adequate soft tissue extensibility is essential for pain-free movement. Stretching muscles and joints can help to improve flexibility. We would suggest consulting a chartered physiotherapist for an individualised flexibility and strength (if needed) programme.
Football injuries in teens - what to look out for?
Lower limb injuries are most common. These include contusions (bruising), ligament sprains and muscle strains. Bruising may occur on the thigh for example after a knock or collision. Non-contact injuries frequently occur in twisting, turning, shooting and landing motions. Injuries can commonly occur at the knee or ankle, where excessive stress on the joint can force the ligaments to give way. Girls are more prone to injuries of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which helps to support the knee. This usually occurs when the knee hyperextends or twists too much during landing, cutting or turning. As such, it is important that young girls learn the proper jumping and landing mechanics and are proactive in preventing such injuries with effective S&C training. Concussions are also common and need to be monitored carefully and immediately for the safety of the child.
What to do if you suspect your son/ daughter has an injury?
Follow the PRICE regime
- Protect - the area from further injury e.g. stop playing/ training.
- Rest – offload the area for a period of time to allow the body to heal and inflammation to settle.
- Ice – helps to reduce pain and swelling and inflammation; place ice in plastic bag (or bag of frozen peas) and put a damp towel between your skin and the bag. Ice for 15-20 (no longer) minutes 3-4 times per day.
- Compression – helps reduce swelling and support the injured area; can use bandage or support; be careful not to apply too tightly.
- Elevation – helps reduce swelling and pain; if possible, the injured area should be placed above heart level.
Football injuries which result in significant pain, swelling, reduced mobility and ability to train should always be assessed and treated by a chartered physiotherapist. The aim is to promote rapid and complete healing without residual flexibility and strength deficits. These could otherwise hinder future performance on the pitch and make further injury more likely. Normally only a few sessions are required and would be a valuable investment in your child’s physical health.
At Mount Merrion Chartered Physiotherapy we are pleased to offer a special Mount Merrion Football club rate of 50euro per session which represents a 25% discount on our usual consultation.
Written by Graham.
Photo by khunaspix. freedigitalphotos.net