In football August means one thing: training camp. And making sure that players fresh off of a break train effectively to avoid injury is a crucial part of a successful start to the season.
As part of that preparation for another exciting season, the NFL is using newly available resources in an effort to better address risk of injury. With the support of the newly-minted Lower Extremity Injury Reduction Task Force, the League has created and distributed educational materials to the clubs that aim to reduce the risk of lower extremity injury during the preseason and beyond.
Analysis of NFL injury data has shown that lower extremity soft tissue injuries, like hamstring and groin strains, occur soon after the three-day acclimation period at the beginning of training camp. The following days of practice, from the 5th to the 10th days, often result in a spike of injuries across the league. These injuries are the number one time-loss injuries in the NFL, resulting in a median seven days missed from football activities.
To help players effectively prepare for training camp, a panel of experts from the task force used injury data to develop five strategies that may help players reduce the risk of injury. Those strategies were shared with clubs in a materials including a brief educational video and an accompanying graphic.
The first two recommendations are strategies players can implement before training camp begins. Experts recommend staying in shape to maintain original levels of fitness as well as mentally and physically preparing for the demands of the preseason – this includes practicing common drills like repeated sprints and strength training. The final recommendations offer guidance for easing into training camp practices, incorporating effective exercises and paying attention to physical well-being.
The task force also created educational materials for coaches, physicians and head athletic trainers to use during training camp.
The materials offer teams a roadmap to ease players into the season while minimizing the negative effects of fatigue, which can contribute to injury occurrence. Gradually reintegrating players into football activities during training camp can help players better acclimate to play without incurring lower extremity injuries.
According to the experts, effective practice design is a key element to avoid unnecessary risk of injury. The coaching, training, and strength and conditioning staff should plan gradual increases in the duration and intensity of practices, vary the duration and/or intensity of practice over the first ten days and monitor player workloads to avoid significant week-to-week increases.
In a communication to clubs, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer, encouraged teams to share the educational materials and expressed his gratitude for their ongoing commitment to reducing injuries.
"We believe many of these [lower extremity injuries] can be prevented or significantly reduced," Dr. Sills said. "Thank you for your efforts in helping to reduce these injuries, and your overall commitment to the health and safety of our players."