What Are The Most Common Injuries In Football?

The weather is cooler, the leaves are falling, and sports fans are smiling a little more, which can only mean one thing: it's football season. As fun as football can be to play and to watch, it can also be a bit brutal. Whether you've played on a team or cheered during Monday Night Football, you're most likely aware of injuries that might occur during a game.

When talking about football injuries, most people tend to jump to the concussion discussion. Complete Concussion Management reports that adults who play in football games rank second (after rugby) for athletes most at risk for concussions, with a rate of 2.5 reported concussions for every 1,000 players. Those under 18-years-old who play football come in third for most at risk of a sports-linked concussion, with 0.53 reported concussions for every 1,000 players. Interestingly, according to Everyday Health, the majority of football-related concussions occur during practices rather than games. 

You might be surprised to learn that concussions are, by far, not the most common injury of football players. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that concussions only account for 5% of football-related injuries. 

Playing football is dangerous for your knees

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the number one injury sustained by those who play football impacts the knee. Tears to the ACL and PCL, or anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments, are the most common injuries when playing football. These injuries can occur during a sudden change of direction while running, falling on the knee, or when the knee takes a direct hit. 

OrthoCarolina explains that the medial collateral ligament (MCL) of the knee is the most injured part of the knee in football players of all ages. In addition, Simple Therapy reports that more than 20% of injuries suffered by professional football players involve the knee. 

The shoulder is another common area injured while playing football. As players tackle each other and crash to the ground, the shoulder can dislocate from the socket and tendons can tear (via Melander Sports Medicine). The University of Rochester explains that offensive and defensive linemen are especially prone to shoulder injuries.

If you love playing the sport or have a child who wants to play, it's important to note that while football injuries can be scary, the risks may not be as bad as you think. OrthoInfo, from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, sheds more light on the risk of injuries when playing football.

Football injuries among the young

According to OrthoInfo, youth football programs provide social, physical, and psychological benefits, yet due to fear of injury, there are children missing out on these rewards. It may come as a shock to learn that bike riders and skateboarders between the ages 5-15 suffer 50% and 74% more injuries, respectively, than those of the same age playing organized football.

The most common football-related injuries that occur among youth are of the musculoskeletal system, including the lower leg, finger, and shoulder (via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Among high school players, ligament sprains are the most common injury (per OrthoInfo).

A 2014 study published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found an 87% decrease in practice injuries with new and improved safety regulations. A 2018 study published by the University of South Carolina spanning two seasons of organized youth football found contusions to be the prominent injury among youth football players, followed by sprains.

"The most high-risk activity of all is childhood, because children are fooling around with their friends, particularly when they're adolescents who start drinking and driving," neurosurgeon Dr. Uzma Samadani told InsideHook. The University of Missouri states that kids who play sports have higher grades, improved social skills, more self-confidence, and better-developed problem-solving abilities.