Fortunately, the majority of injuries in football are not serious. The most common injuries are contusions, muscle strains and ligament sprains. However, some injuries in football qualify as “catastrophic”, defined by the American Medical Association as injuries resulting in a 55 per cent or more impairment. These include traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury leading to paraplegia or quadriplegia.

  • In the U.S., it’s estimated that football accounts for 63 per cent of all concussions sustained in high school sports.
  • Head injury is the most-common injury responsible for death in tackle football (69 per cent), followed by cervical spine injury.
  • Of the non-fatal catastrophic injuries, cervical spine injuries are the most common in tackle football.
  • The most-common cause of spinal cord injury is from axial loading to the spine when players spear each other headfirst during a tackle. 

Safety tips

  • Implement a year-round conditioning and training program to maintain muscle strength, balance, co-ordination, flexibility, mobility, agility and endurance.
  • Discourage all foul play and strictly enforce rules.
  • Limit contact during practice; instead, use equipment to teach strategies.
  • The field should be well maintained and an adequate buffer zone should be in place surrounding the area to prevent out-of-bounds injuries.
Close-up of a green football helmet on grass

Make sure players:

  • Have access to adequate pre-seasonal, seasonal and on-field medical expertise.
  • Be matched to size, strength, power, skill level, fitness and experience.
  • Undergo a proper conditioning regimen which includes strengthening neck muscles.
  • Be taught the essential skills of football, especially tackling and blocking.
  • Be fitted with protective equipment: helmet, shoulder and neck padding and a mouth guard, and taught how to appropriately pad and tape themselves.
  • Understand the basics of injury mechanisms, how to identify a serious injury and when to seek help.
  • Follow proper “Return to Play Guidelines” following a concussion. Refer to the Resource Library below.

Risk factors to consider

  • Age and gender: in a 2008 study conducted by Dr. Charles Tator, 29 of 30 catastrophic injuries were sustained by males, all under the age of 30.
  • Previous injuries: having a previous injury predisposes a player to re-injury.
  • Style of play: aggression, inattentiveness and rule-breaking lead to increased risk of injury.
  • Position: defensive backs are at greatest risk for brain and spinal injury. Receivers, running backs and quarterbacks are also at increased risk.
  • Field surface: it is generally believed that natural grass is safer than artificial turf.
  • Equipment: properly fitted helmets and neck support reduce risk for injury.
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