Common football injuries – a fantasy football manager’s guide

madden-ambulanceEver find yourself wondering what the football commentators are talking about when they are discussing player injuries? Sometimes I wonder if they even know what they are talking about! I’m reminded of old-school Madden video games when the ambulance drove out onto the field, actually running over a few players in the process, only to find out your stud running back is out for 5 weeks due to elbow bursitis. Also, I bet many of you manage fantasy football teams, and have to deal with managing your transactions around player injuries. Sprains and strains. Contusions. Concussions. Stress Fractures. Bursitis. Tendonitis. All things that can throw off your Fantasy Football team’s flow. Well, here’s a simple guide to these common football injuries.

*Disclaimer: I am speaking about these common injuries in terms of professional athletes, not youth athletes. Being that they are skeletomuscularly fully mature, and getting paid millions of dollars, it is more appropriate for them to “play through” an injury (except concussions!) when a young athlete should not.

  • Sprains – An injury to a joint. Specifically, a tearing of ligaments, capsule, and/or cartilage. (No, Joe Buck, you cannot “sprain” your hamstring.) Most common areas in football are knees (ACLs, MCLs, Meniscus), ankles (medial, lateral, “high”), midfoot (the dreaded “Lisfranc”!), and shoulder. Well, lots of fingers too, but most linemen just tape them up and live with knarled fingers. A sprain can range from mild (grade 1), which typically can be taped/braced, treated, and played through based on pain tolerance, to grade 3 (complete tearing of the structure, and needs significant recovery time). Keep an eye out for these “troublesome” non-surgery injuries with your players:  high ankle sprain (can take up to 4-6 weeks to return, and is easily reaggravated), shoulder dislocations (a grade 3 shoulder capsule/ligament sprain, typically is very recurrent once it happens in football), and mid-foot sprains (Lisfranc – good luck cutting and accelerating with this injury, even with the world’s best tape job!)
  • Strains – An tearing injury to a muscle or tendon. Again, can range from mild (grade 1, only some fibers torn, a slight “pull”) to severe (grade 3 – a complete tearing). Strains can be traumatic or occur gradually over time. While physiologically you cannot typically speed the healing process, there is a lot that can be done from a rehab perspective to help players return from these injuries fast. Look out for those players who skipped training camp because their agent didn’t get them enough money. They commonly suffer hamstring strains (and while this is definitely an easy injury to “nurse”, it can also be quite a problem for skill position players, as it can affect acceleration and top speed) and Achilles tears (maybe he should have spent more time improving that ankle mobility!) You can lump the QBs’ rotator cuff tears into this category as well. One can still throw a football with a torn RC, depending on the severity of the tear and which tendons are involved. With these QBs, definitely expect to see a higher percentage of 15 yards or less pass routes.
  • Stress Fracture – An overuse injury to a bone (usually just a crack) due to repetitive stress over time. These can be easily overlooked, and even can be missed on x-ray. He typically should be healed enough to play after 4-6 weeks. This should not to be confused with an acute fracture (more traumatic in nature, and typically more significant damage). Stress fractures are typically a sign of a) overuse or b) other biomechanical/compensational problems. Or maybe he just hasn’t been drinking his milk…
  • Contusion – A bruise. Someone got wrecked. Depending on the location of the boo boo, they can continue to play with the area padded, or may need up to 3 weeks off in more severe cases. Typically, it takes longer to recover from a bone bruise than it does a soft tissue bruise.  In some cases, contusions can even occur to internal organs (not good!) Be wary, though, of thigh (quadriceps) contusions. One of my least-favorite injuries to manage.  Because of the high vascularity (blood flow) in the area, typically is better to treat these conservatively and avoid heat, massage, and over-stretching during the first 3-7 days. Poorly managed deep quad contusions are no fun to recover from! Also, concussions can be included here (brain contusion). For info on concussion, hop on over to my blog on concussions.
  • The “itis” family  This is a stingy family. “Itis” means “inflammation of  the _____”. You might be familiar with tendonitis, a repetitive stress injury to a tendon (the connection between the muscle and the bone). There is also bursitis, an inflamed bursa sac due to repetitive stress to the overlying tendon(s). Plantar fasciitis is that nagging inflammation of the tissues in the arch of your foot. With QBs, there is epicondylitis (yes, football players can get “tennis” elbow), an inflammation of where the tendons that cross the inside of the elbow attach to the bone. All of these conditions can be played through, but can also have a definite impact on performance, and can linger a number of weeks if not managed properly.  Keep an eye on their status to see if the condition is getting better, or worse, each work.  May want to “sit” those getting worse, even if their coaches don’t.

Looking for more insider info on any other injuries?  Feel free to contact me at

Ryan Stevens, MPS, LAT/ATC, CSCS


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *