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Managing Football Injuries

Football players

Millions of viewers will be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. Many of you have seen Drs. Rodeo, Kelly and Warren on the Giants sideline- but what are they doing on the field when there is an injury? John Cavanaugh, Clinical Supervisor at the HSS Sports Rehabilitation & Performance Center and team physical therapist for the United States Merchant Marine Academy offers the following insights into the proper management of football injuries for players of all levels to return to their sport:

  • On-field assessment and diagnosis: Immediately after an injury occurs, an on-field evaluation is performed by a certified athletic trainer and/or physician. These medical professionals determine the magnitude and severity of the injury, as well as the best means to transport the athlete to the sideline, where in most cases a more thorough assessment will take place. Where available, an X-ray may be taken to rule out a serious injury such as a fracture. A determination will then be made as to whether or not the player can return to the field. In cases where a serious head or neck injury has occurred, the player’s cervical spine would be immobilized and the player would be immediately transported to a nearby trauma center for further evaluation.
  • Immediate therapeutic interventions:Based on the assessment, immediate therapeutic interventions play an important role in injury management. Treatments include:
    • Applying ice and compression to control pain and swelling
    • Placing the athlete in an environment conducive to healing, such as providing them with crutches to take the stress off of an injury to the leg
    • Immobilizing an upper extremity injury with a shoulder sling
    • Fabricating a protective pad to further protect the injury, thus allowing the athlete to return to play protected
  • Re-assessment the following day: A re-assessment is performed the following day by the certified athletic trainer and/or physician to determine the athlete’s playing status. Range of motion assessment, strength testing of the injured muscle or around the affected joint, and functional status, along with the player’s subjective complaints, will assist the medical team in determining that athlete’s return to play timetable.
  • Comprehensive rehabilitation:All injuries require some degree of rehabilitation. The rehabilitation professionals assigned to the athlete’s care evaluate and treat the injury based on their objective findings, all while maintaining a safe environment conducive to healing. Therapeutic modalities along with manual soft tissue techniques are often used to treat pain, swelling and muscle spasm. Therapeutic exercises are used to address deficits in range of motion, flexibility, strength & power. This process follows a criteria based functional progression. When the athlete meets the determined return to play criteria, the medical team makes the decision on when to return the athlete to competition.

John Cavanaugh, PT, MEd, ATC, SCS, is the Clinical Supervisor at the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He has served as the Team Physical Therapist at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY for the past 29 years. John is the coordinator of the HSS PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) Outreach Program.


Topics: Performance
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.