Every football player accepts that the occasional injury is part and parcel of the game. Yet while a muscle strain or sprain is one thing, we all know that football is a high-contact sport. Research from the University of North Carolina, using data from helmet sensors, suggests that football collisions can be of comparable intensity to a car hitting a brick wall at 25 miles per hour. Unsurprising, then, that when things go wrong, the consequences can be life-changing.
Who can forget the Denver Broncos' final game of the 2011 NFL regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs, when Broncos guard Chris Kuper went down in a heap during the first quarter? It was immediately obvious from the unnatural angle of his foot that he had broken his ankle, and though he played 11 more games over 2012/2013, he was never the same, and that injury effectively signaled the end of his career.
However, even the worst-looking injury need not be disastrous. When (then) St. Louis Rams wide receiver and kick returner Danny Amendola dislocated his elbow in the first game of the 2011 season, it looked for all the world that his career was over. However, while he played no further part in the 2011 season, he was back and as strong as ever the following year.
From throw arounds with friends in the park to Monday night football in the NFL, the potential for injury is a reality that every player lives with. Yet that does not mean that there is nothing we can do to reduce both the potential for injuries to occur and the impact on our playing career when they do. Let's take a look.
Concussions are one of the biggest risks in football, so the subject of helmet technology has to be at the top of the list. In 2013, a team of doctors and neuroscientists who had first-hand experience of the effects that concussions can have on young players founded VICIS, an organization dedicated to revolutionizing football helmets.
Part of the problems with helmets as we know them is that they were actually designed to prevent skull fractures. Attempting to retrofit a design that was created for one purpose to fulfill another was never going to be easy.
Two years of development and $10 million of funding have seen the creation of the world's first buckling helmets – essentially, they work along similar lines as the crumple zones in modern cars, to take the energy out of an impact.
The head might be the most obvious thing that we think of when it comes to protection for footballers. After all, the helmet is the first piece of kit that you see, and is synonymous with the game. Even the scores across the bottom of your TV screen will just show the helmet bearing the team's logo.
However, think again about injuries. Those two that were mentioned earlier involved an ankle and an elbow. Knee and shoulder injuries are also common. When you think about it, it is these joints that have the biggest exposure to injury, and that can take a long time to heal.
Technology can also help here, in the form of innovative aids in recovery such as an ankle sleeve, elbow sleeve or similar. These can fit snugly around the joint to provide additional support, to get you back out on the field sooner.
Compression clothes like these are not only valuable in protecting a point of weakness after injury, but can also give that extra strength to your joints and muscles to reduce the likelihood of a strain in the first place.
However fit you might be, a big hit is a big hit, and can leave you flattened. However, the majority of football injuries are actually less dramatic. Many of the muscle strains that can put a player out of action for a week or more could have been prevented with better preparation.
The NFL ran this story a while ago, to show how any player can achieve NFL agility with the right stretching regime. While we can't guarantee that they will turn you into the next Barry Sanders, the right pre-game preparation will certainly reduce the likelihood of you pulling up with a calf strain on the first play of the game.
Football can be hard on the body, but when Brett Favre set an NFL record in 2010 with 297 consecutive starts, he proved that even at the top of the game, it is possible to stay injury free. Following the right preparations and using the latest technology is an example that we can all follow.