The NFL Injury Epidemic

cartoon showing all NFL players all injured together on the field

Posted on 1/24/2018 by Jeff Lambert-Shemo, ATC

 

Throughout the 2017 NFL regular season, a plethora of superstars saw their seasons cut short due to serious and season-ending injuries. Carson Wentz, Odell Beckham and J.J. Watt were just a few of the headliners bit by the injury bug. Overall, 35 players who had previously been elected to the Pro Bowl or could be considered major contributors to a team sustained a serious or season-ending injury. Many fans were left wondering whether there were key factors that contributed to this increase in sidelined players.

One possibility lies within an increase in physical abilities of the athletes participating in pro football. While an influx of bigger, stronger and faster players may make for a more exciting product, it also increases the opportunity for injuries to occur. Advances in the field of strength and conditioning along with nutrition have allowed these gladiators of the gridiron to reach new peak performance levels in regards to power and speed. With the difference in speed and strength among players becoming negligible, athletes are now relying on different skills to make an impact for their team.

One of the most important skills for the player is the ability to transfer speed and strength into movements, allowing a receiver to get separation, a defensive lineman to get a step on his adversary and a running back to evade a would-be-tackler. This skill allows an athlete to use their other talents to make a big play. So if athletes are more skilled at movement, why are these injuries still occurring?

As the speed of movement increases, control of that movement will naturally decrease, also affecting an athlete’s ability to maintain control. Athletes who are relied upon to change the course of a play, game or season must continuously perform at a level that is tiptoeing between success and failure and that can put their physical safety at risk. Changing direction, stopping, turning and jumping all become less controlled as speed increases. For a player in the NFL, an opportunity to make a great play also increases the opportunity for injury.

With an increase in the number of exceptionally strong and fast athletes in the NFL, the number of players who have the skill to separate themselves from other athletes within a particular position is dwindling. With fewer players who have the skill to make a difference, teams are relying more heavily than ever on a few key individuals to adjust the course of a game, which is also putting those players at a higher risk of injury.

As a point of emphasis, training and practicing athletics at full competition speed is the best way to create appropriate muscle patterns to increase skill in movement while decreasing the risk of injury.

At NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy, we offer sport-specific programs to help athletes of all performance levels restore function, decrease pain, increase strength and flexibility, optimize performance and gain education on injury prevention. Contact a center near you to speak with a member of our sports medicine team today!

Jeff Lambert-ShemoBy: Jeff Lambert-Shemo, ATC. Jeff is a certified athletic trainer and the director of sports medicine for NovaCare Rehabilitation in Northern Ohio. He has been a NovaCare team member for six years and brings more than 20 years of experience in youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletics, including soccer, lacrosse and football. Most recently, Jeff served as the head athletic trainer for the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.