Anyone who has ever watched a football game knows the players risk injuring themselves. Perhaps the blockbuster success of the movie Concussion is to blame, but in recent years, the aggressive nature and potential for injury involved in the sport has been a heated subject nationwide.
Brandon Payne, a trainer for the ISU football team who has also worked with high school players, elaborated on the risk and severity of football injuries.
According to Payne, musculoskeletal type injuries are the most common on the field during games. He added that those are the most basic across all levels of football.
However, he said many more injuries happen in practice compared to during a game.
“There’s more opportunities for injuries in practice because there’s that much more time, and everybody’s practicing,” Payne said, “but not everybody’s playing.”
Payne also said the types and amount of injuries can vary between high school and collegiate levels.
“At the high school level, anybody who wants to play can play,” Payne said. “So you’re going to have someone who’s a little more non-athletic and a little more prone to being susceptible to injuries because they get stuck in a situation or a pile-up. While in the college level, they’re more athletic. They can get out of situations and not put themselves in situations where they might hurt themselves.”
Serious injuries like concussions and broken bones take players out of the game, if not the season, but according to Payne, musculoskeletal injuries depend on if the player can play on the injury.
“Can they can run and move and do whatever they’re doing on that? Do they have the ability to keep going and not put themselves in a situation to hurt themselves further,” he said. “If they can’t, you put them at risk for concussions and those other big injuries. So you have to play in the severity of it.”
He added that trainers consider the risk of further damaging the injury and gaining another injury before allowing injured players back onto the field.
Payne said he usually sees at least one to two season-ending injuries a year.
“Something like a concussion or torn ligaments or ACLs are becoming more and more prevalent across all sports.”
Although some have stated concerns that “money games” put the players at a greater risk for injury, Payne said there’s not much difference in the number of injuries from game to game, calling it “hit or miss.”
“I don’t think that plays into anything really, the differences in schools,” he said. “I think maybe those bigger school games just get a little bit more attention, so you might hear more about some of the injuries.”
He said the biggest concern is on the high school level, where some fields may not be well-maintained and have conditions which lead to opportunity for more injury.
However, this is less of a concern on the college level, where fields must be maintained. But Payne said when the team is playing on grass rather than turf, they always consider the possibility of more uneven ground and therefore the risk of injury.
Most injury prevention, however, is in the form of cramping prevention in hot and humid places and keeping players warm and covered in cold conditions.
Although some games, such as rivalry games, may seem as though they carry a greater risk, Payne said even then, it’s not likely.
“You could say in rivalry games there might be a higher risk because people are going to be a little more amped up,” he said. “Usually the first drive or two there’s a little bit more anticipation and tension, but after that it’s a football game. Everything tempers down and falls into place.”
When players are injured, Payne said there are certain considerations the team and trainers take when deciding to put them back in the game.
“It ultimately comes down to a comfort level for them on the field,” he said. “If they feel they’re hindering the team, they say they need to not play.”
According to Payne the most difficult injuries to come back from are concussions and any injury that requires a surgery, due to the rehabilitation time and the mental strain of getting back in the game post-surgery.
Payne credits the recent surge of concern toward concussions to a greater knowledge and understanding of the injury, rather than an actual increase in concussions.
“There’s probably not an increase in concussions,” he said. “There’s just more of an awareness now of concussions. The medical field has caught up finally of being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions better and understand what concussions can do to the brain long term.”
The guidelines of how to manage players after a big hit have changed due to those advances. Payne said people are becoming more concerned for the players’ health than the sake of the game.
But he added that he doesn’t believe the changing guidelines have led to more injuries in other areas.
“There’s always been more injuries to the body than the head, just because there’s more body parts to be injured,” he said. “Concussions are just always in the forefront because they’re a season ending injury and something that lingers long term throughout the rest of their life…so those just tend to get the headlines more.”
And, according to Payne, the increase in attention and coverage on concussions in players may lead to less children participating in the sport.
“I think it’s a big thing that’s happening,” he said. “I think you’re going to see reduction of numbers of high school players from a lot of this. And this was always there in the past, but people have just started having knowledge of it.”
He added that the medical advances and research being made on concussions is also changing the game, literally.
“There’s constant research being done on helmets, and different ideas and concepts being thrown out there, so they don’t jostle the brain as much,” he said. “But it’s a long process, and it takes a long time. But they have improved drastically.”