Football Knee Injury
It may not be a contact sport, but footballers are just as susceptible to knee damage as their rugby-playing counterparts, and for good reason: no team sport covers as much ground during a game than football. According to STATS, the world’s leading sports data company, the average professional football player runs for an average of 7 miles a game, with some players pushing it to 9.5 miles. That’s over 38 laps on the inside of an Olympic running track.
And, of course, that’s not in a straight line, it’s not completely run without a ball at your feet from time to time, and you’re not being tackled every now and again. The two main levels of shock and impact that playing football imposes on the knee is an extended period of running combined with instantly stopping (or twisting and turning), and the sharp impact of making a tackle, or receiving one.
The bottom line – as with a lot of other sports – is that the knees weren’t designed with football in mind. Yes, the knees are designed to twist and undergo stress, but the nature of the sport – particularly in this day and age – puts a hugely excessive amount of stress on them.
Little wonder that the majority of football injuries occur in the lower extremities. The ‘good’ news is that most of them are focused on the ankles and feet (with ankle sprains being the most common injury of all), but a lot of the more serious ones focus upon the knee area. Twenty-five percent of all leg injuries are knee injuries, and they’re all capable of ending a player’s season – if not career.
The two main knee injuries in football are:
Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear
The ACL is a hugely important component of the knee. As it stabilises the joint, keeps the shin in place and prevents the knee from over-rotation. Repetitive turning and changing direction can cause damage in the long term, but tackles do the job quicker – even if you’re the actual tackler, as Paul Gascoigne discovered in the 1991 FA Cup final.
Symptoms of an ACL tear include mild to severe instability, painful swelling and a long layoff from action. Solutions depend on the severity of the tear: in extreme cases (or for top-level players) ACL reconstruction surgery will be recommended, where a strip of the patella tendon as a replacement graft. If all goes well, the patient can return to action in less than six months.
The meniscus is a rubbery, crescent-shaped disc which cushions the stress caused as you walk or run, and help steady the knee by balancing the weight you put on it. Damage can be caused by extreme stress caused by planting the foot or twisting the knee. Symptoms vary, from slight pain and swelling from a minor tear to pieces of the meniscus getting lodged in joint space, in which case surgical intervention may be required.
What can you do to avoid football knee injuries?
Plenty – but while strengthening the muscles around the knee through exercise will help, that can only do so much. Focusing on the supporting muscles and keeping them from tensing up during exercise, practice and games is just as important, as is working on refining and honing your balance. It’s all about getting into good movement habits to give your knees the best possible chance of recovery should the worst happen.
Mr Jonathan Webb is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon that specialises in knee injuries. His personal experience of playing for the England national rugby team means he understands the pressures faced by the athlete suffering from a serious knee injury, whether they are an enthusiastic amateur or a professional sportsman or woman.
To arrange a consultation, call 08450 60 44 99 for his Bristol clinic or 020 3195 2443 for his London clinics.
Football Knee Injury Testimonials
“I am playing football, sprinting, working on my parent’s farm, and about to go to Uni where I will join the cricket and hockey teams. I don’t think about my knee at all and I’m incredibly pleased with the outcome.”