Mass General Brigham is the official sports medicine partner of the New England Patriots. In honor of the team’s home opener on Sunday, September 10, which will include a special ceremony for one of the most popular players in franchise history, #12, here are 12 tips from Mass General Brigham sports medicine providers for playing football safely:
According to Patriots team physician Gian Corrado, MD, hydration helps athletes maintain the health and energy needed for sustained athletic performance. Drink a high volume of water before, during, and after play to improve response time, delay exhaustion, and aid recovery.
Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine physiatrist Haylee Borgstrom, MD, recommends a good, consistent core and gluteal strengthening program. Stretch the hips to prevent the hip flexors from becoming too tight.
Every athlete needs rest days, especially as they age. Christian Lattermann, MD, research director for Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine, stresses the importance of practicing preventative care as much as possible. Take rest days when needed and include a range of agility, flexibility, and stretching exercises in everyday workouts. If you’re injured, rest is an important part of the recovery process. “Playing through the pain” can harm long-term health, and potentially end an athlete’s career. Always listen closely to your doctor’s advice.
Especially in the preseason and early in the autumn, it’s important to monitor the weather and heat index when playing and training. Your coach and trainers should schedule activity outside of the hottest hours of the day and provide water, shade, and breaks. Weight training or cardio exercise in a climate-controlled gym is a great compromise for exercising mid-day in hot weather.
Protective equipment and padding helps prevent or lessen injury in football players. This includes a helmet, shoulder, hip, tail and knee pads, pants, thigh guards, an athletic supporter, a mouth guard with a keeper strap, and sneakers or approved cleats. If you wear eyeglasses, use safety glasses or consider contact lenses.
Players and parents should make an injury plan. Is there a team doctor? Where is the closest hospital or medical facility? Is someone on the team designated to call 911 if an emergency arises? These things should be discussed prior to, rather than immediately following, any athletic injury. For non-emergency sports related injuries, receive same-day care with no appointment needed at Mass General Brigham Orthopedics Walk-in in Wellesley.
Because football involves head-on impacts, concussions can occur during football play. Some signs of concussion include:
According to Ross Zafonte, DO, president of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, concussion symptoms may not present immediately following the injury. In some cases, it can take up to 48 hours for symptoms to show, so be vigilant and speak to a healthcare professional if you see any symptoms and suspect concussion.
Players should pay close attention to any physical discomfort or pain they experience on or off the field, whether it is sudden or chronic. If you or your child is hurt, let the team coaches, trainers and doctors know, so they can monitor the player’s health, modify activities appropriately, and assist in medical treatment if necessary. Teams should stock first aid equipment at the site of play, including bandages, ice packs, gauze and tape.
Football players do themselves a disservice if they focus on only one type of training, like weights, for example. Patriots team physician Scott Martin, MD, recommends a cross-training approach, incorporating a mix of weight training, aerobic exercise, running, yoga, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and/or plyometrics into the training routine for maximum benefit.
While this is included in our fifth tip, it bears repeating. The speed and force of an athlete’s movements on the field are literally grounded in the feet. Stretch the feet and ankles, make sure shoes or cleats fit properly, and change socks often. A Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine provider or podiatrist can help recommend the best footwear for you.
Team coaches, trainers and doctors have the players’ best interests in mind and will carefully monitor and modify player training and practice to ensure peak performance and minimize injury. Listen to what these professionals have to say, ask questions, and give feedback. Ultimately, each player knows what is best for their own body, and football training, play, and medical care and plans should feel like a partnership between the player and staff with a shared understanding and mutual agreement.
Football is a game meant to be enjoyed by those playing. While it’s important to train and practice hard so you perform at your best, good physical health is complemented by good mental health. Players should look forward to game day, and not feel pressured or coerced into playing or training at the expense of their personal enjoyment and overall mental health.