Article by Shaunna More

If you’re looking for a sport with a huge rate of injuries, look no further than the local football field. It seems like every week we see or hear about a football player getting injured – both at the local high school youth level or at the professional level. Everyone gets mad at their hero for getting injured and ruining their chances for the Super Bowl. The local superstar misses out on his big break with the college scouts because of a knee injury.

The question often comes up as to why so many football players are getting injured on the field or in practice, but simply looking at how the game is played and how the players need to practice to get ready can help give us the answer. Football is a very high impact sport. The players are constantly running, tackling, blocking, and being very physical with each other. Players often have to kick on sudden bursts of speed and frequently have to pivot to change direction. If the muscles are not warmed up properly before the game or the quarter, it is an injury waiting to happen. In this article, we are going explore a few of the most common injuries in the sport, knee and shoulder, and how massage may treat them.

When it comes to football injuries, knee injuries are by far the most common. Turning your knee suddenly when your foot remains in the same place, due to having cleats on, makes tears almost an inevitability. ACL, MCL, and Meniscus tears make up the top three most common injuries on the football field. The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament of the knee, can be damaged when a player gets hit from the front or the rear. MCL, or medial collateral ligament, gets injured from impacts to the side of the knee. Tears and strains of the meniscus happen when the knee rotates without taking the foot with it. All three of these conditions can be very painful. If the tear is great enough (over 40%), surgery may be needed to repair the damage.

Massage for these conditions can help reduce swelling around the injury. It can increase the circulation and joint mobility. All of these effects will help to reduce pain in the area. Massage is a great complement to healing, especially when the patient is also using physical therapy at the time. Physical therapy can help to rebuild the muscle tissue around the injured knee and keep it strong while massage will keep the joints limber and the blood circulating to the area so that the healing happens faster. The best way for massage to help heal the injury is to use cross-fiber friction over the injury to bring blood flow to the area. This helps to realign the fibers along the edges of the tears and will help them heal correctly. It also has the added benefit of reducing the formation of scar tissue. Sports massage can also be applied to the muscles surrounding the area, particularly the quadriceps and hamstring muscles to keep them relaxed and reduce swelling. Massage can begin to be applied in the initial area after 72 hours have passed since the injury occurred. If the tear or strain is more severe, it should not be massaged for a week or more after the initial injury.

Another common injury, particularly for quarterbacks, running backs, and other positions that throw the long ball distances, is shoulder tendonitis or strains. Tendonitis is a result of chronic use of the joint. The exact movements that are painful depend on the areas that have the restriction. There may or may not be inflammation in the area. Some medical professionals prefer to use the term tendinopathy to describe the condition because of the lack of inflammation in some cases, but tendonitis is still the most commonly used term.  Most often tendonitis affects the rotator cuff muscles. Treatments for strains and tendonitis involve making sure that you are treating for the stage of severity. Icing to remove any inflammation is an essential step at the beginning. Lymphatic drainage of the area might be necessary to remove any edema. Passive range of motion tests is used to discern the level of movement available and what is needed to proceed. When it reaches the subacute stage, cross fiber friction can be used to help bring more blood flow to the tissues to begin the healing process. It can be used the rest of the way throughout the process. Traction should be avoided so as not to aggravate the muscles by overstretching them. Stretching may re-injure the muscle by over-stretching the tissue and causing it to become inflamed again.

There are many other injuries that occur in the sport of football because of the high physicality of the sport even compared to other sports out there. Most of those injuries can benefit from having a well-trained massage therapist work on them. Some teams in the United States already utilize a massage therapist on their staff for that reason, but there is no reason there shouldn’t be more use of them as a non-invasive alternative for quick healing of the inevitable injuries that occur on the field at all levels.

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