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Health & Exercise Forum

Prevent Junior Football Injuries

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Aug 23, 2010

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumSince my column on the prevention of heat stroke in football practice ran two weeks ago, I have received several calls and emails requesting more information about safety tips in youth football. In response, this column is written to raise the level of consciousness and to educate coaches, players and parents about the importance of injury prevention in young players. While most high school programs have certified athletic trainers on staff, I am more concerned with the youth football programs. Often, these players are coached by a well-intended, but not well-informed parent without access to trainers or other medical personal at practices and games.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year more than 3.5 million sports related injuries in youngster under 15 required medical treatment at a hospital or clinic. One million of those injuries are from football and basketball alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons offers medical information regarding the young athlete (15 and under) and recommendations for injury prevention. High school football is different. Coaches are subject to state regulation (PIAA) and medical personal and athletic trainers are present. However, youth football players may be more vulnerable.

The Young Football Player

  • Young athletes are not small adults. Their bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are still developing and are vulnerable to injury.
  • Growth plates are sections of bone that are not completely fused. These plates are very vulnerable to injury, especially in contact sports. In some cases, an injury to a growth plate can be very serious.
  • Size variation in youth football is great. Within one age group, great differences in height, weight, strength, physical and mental maturity varies greatly. Don’t group players based solely on age.
  • Contact and overuse injuries are common in football. Contact injuries occur from an outside force such as a helmet hitting an ankle. Sprains, fractures, contusions (bumps and bruises) are examples of contact injuries. Overuse injuries occur from repetition. Little league elbow, shoulder or Achilles tendonitis are good examples.

When to Seek Medical Attention

“RICE” Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation is the best treatment for most minor injuries  to provide comfort and prevent further injury until a medical professional is seen.

If the following signs are present, timely medical attention is imperative:

  • Inability to play following a sudden injury
  • Comprised play due to a long standing nagging injury
  • Deformity in an extremity or any body part
  • Severe pain from an injury which prevents the normal use of the arm or leg
  • Cognitive Change, headaches, confusion, dizziness, poor coordination after a head injury
  • Weakness in an arm or leg with or without pain

Prevention of Youth Football Injuries

  • Physical Exam – is necessary before contact sports begin
  • Physical Conditioning – train hard to get in good shape for your sport
  • Know the Rules and Techniques– following the rules on proper tackling, blocking etc
  • Wear Proper Equipment – wear all gear and be sure it fits you properly. Learn how to adjust straps, etc.
  • Warm up and Stretch – before you begin practice and games
  • Cool down – after practice and games
  • Listen to Your Body – take yourself out if you are too tired or are in pain
  • Respect the heat – take proper precautions on hot humid days
  • Buddy Watch - look out for your buddy for signs of problems
  • Coach Watch – at the risk of being an overbearing parent, sometimes parents are right! Don’t let your coach practice or play in bad weather, lightening or poor field conditions. Watch for encouragement to use poor techniques such as tackling from behind, tackling with the helmet. Coaches should be encouraging safe play, basic skills, proper technique, good sportsmanship and FUN! You will have plenty of time for intense and serious play in high school and college.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of  Scranton, PT Dept.