As the National Football League (NFL) season approaches its finale this Sunday, the New England Patriots will battle the LA Rams. It is important to consider the effects of fatigue and how the extended season impacts player health.
While this year’s Super Bowl takes place in a climate-controlled dome in Atlanta and players will not be subjected to extreme environmental conditions, these players are still at risk for dehydration, muscle cramping, and heat illness. Hydration before and during the game is critical. Furthermore, it is important to players to avoid drinks with high amounts of caffeine as this can worsen dehydration.
Elite athletes are competitors who may have worked their entire career to reach the championship game. Often, players will try to play through injuries if possible, especially in big games. The decision for team physicians and players regarding playing with injuries is based upon two important questions about safety:
- Will playing with this injury be harmful to the player’s future health and career?
- Does the injury prevent the player from being able to protect during play?
If the answer is yes to one or both of these questions, the player will likely be withheld from competition.
While injuries may broadly be grouped as either acute or overuse, the majority of football-related injuries are acute. In fact, a recent article that looked at the types of injuries occurring in the NFL found that the majority (62%) occurred in the lower extremity, with the knee and ankle most affected. Despite the acute nature of many of these injuries, there are things that can be done to limit injuries, such as maximizing recovery and providing a strength and conditioning program to maintain adequate protective strength.
It is very important that we consider the role of fatigue in injury prevention. Similar to the skier who is more prone to injury near the end of the day due to fatigue of their protective musculature, a football player’s tired muscles do not respond as rapidly or with the same force leaving them susceptible to injury. In the leg, for example, decreased muscular control that accompanies fatigue may increase the risk of ligament injuries during pivoting and twisting activities. Adequate rest to allow muscle recover is very important and NFL teams build in modifications to their training regimens to combat fatigue.
Ongoing strength and conditioning efforts are also important to meet the rigorous demands of the sport and ensure ample strength to accomplish tasks safely and reliably. Limiting the effects of fatigue through adequate recovery and strength training are critical in any sport, but particularly when one considers the extension of the NFL season into the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Reviewed on January 24, 2019
Dr. Samuel Taylor, Sports Medicine Surgeon, has developed a unique understanding of the demands and anxieties faced by injured athletes at all levels. His clinical expertise includes minimally invasive and reconstructive techniques of the shoulder, elbow, and knee.