As the National Football League (NFL) season comes to a close this Sunday and two teams battle for the ultimate prize, it is important to consider the effects of fatigue and how the extended season impacts player health.
This year’s Super Bowl takes place in sunny San Francisco, California, and extreme heat and humidity can be worrisome from a medical standpoint. Playing in warmer weather increases the rate at which players lose fluid through sweat, which also increases risks of dehydration and muscle cramping. 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 performing at their level of play and prevent them from being able to adequately protect themselves during play?
If the answer is yes to both, then they are unlikely to be allowed to play. They are allowed to do so as long as they are not putting themselves at undue risk of worsening the injury.
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.
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.