Knee Injuries From Football | Proper Recovery and Prevention Advice

Written By on April 11, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Written by on April 11, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By: Kristopher Cenzia

Knee injuries are a common ailment of football players, both in the professional and recreational fields. They can cause regular pain and discomfort if not treated in a proper manner.

Football is a high-impact, contact sport, which means that there is a lot of pressure on the joints and this of course includes the knees.

Here we will be discussing;

  • Symptoms of knee pain from football
  • Types of football-related knee injuries
  • Common knee injuries
  • Common football injuries
  • How to tell if you have a torn meniscus
  • Is football really bad for your knees?

Football Knee Injury Symptoms

football player lying on the ground feeling knee injury symptoms

It is a given that playing football will put excess strain on your knees. During training or during a match, the pressure from the constant shift in weight, twists, and turns can result in damage to the knee joint.

Ignoring these twinges and nagging pains can have a detrimental effect on your joints. This can also lead to complications later in life. If you experience pain, discomfort, rigidity of the joint, or inflammation are cause for concern and should be seen by a doctor.

Football Related Knee Injuries

Lady wearing green sleeveless and blue shorts with red shoes or sneakers with sprained knee

Sprained Knee

The knee is made up of two cruciate ligaments and two collateral ligaments. A sprained knee is a common injury and is generally the result of overstretching, tearing or damaging these ligaments.

A knee support and rest are all that is needed in most cases. The knee support will apply much-needed compression of the knee which will reduce swelling and speed up recovery.

ice packs will also reduce pain and swelling. If the tear is complex then surgery may be required. But you will know because of severe pain, swelling, inflammation, and loss of movement. This will make the knee weak and susceptible to buckling.

Recommended: Best knee braces for football players

Man wearing pants and a blue green sweater that has patellofemoral pain

Patellofemoral Pain

Patellofemoral pain, or runner’s knee, can be an injury incurred through football too. The pain is felt at the front of the knee, on and around the patella. This can worsen during exercise and will be accompanied by swelling.

Grinding or ‘popping’ are sensations that sufferers may feel when they participate in physical activity. Displacement of the knee cap, weakened thigh muscles, general knee injuries, or flat feet may cause the runner’s knee.

Wearing a knee support, applying pressure, ice packs and resting are all recommended ways to treat runner’s knee.

Torn cartilage, or meniscus tears, are also common in footballers

Torn Cartilage

Torn cartilage, or meniscus tears, are also common in footballers. Sharp twists and turns can lead to uneven distribution of weight and result in tears.

This is an injury that can often be ignored among footballers but it can get much worse by continued use. Symptoms can range from slight aches to excruciating pain. Players will also experience swelling, knee-locking, stiffness, shooting pains, and inability to straighten the knee.

Surgery and physiotherapy may be necessary if the tear is severe. Elevating the leg should be enough to begin the healing process in less severe cases.

posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) can be found at the back of the knee

Posterior Cruciate Ligament

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) can be found at the back of the knee, connecting the femur with the tibia. It is strong and major force must be applied to cause damage. Falling on a bent knee is often the cause of such injuries. It could also be due to hyperextension.

PCL damage is graded from one to four, a slight tear being a one and widespread damage involving other ligaments is recognized as a four.

Mild injuries will repair over time but serious cases may require surgery, rehabilitation, and a supportive brace.

anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) stops the shin bone from sliding in front of the thigh bone

Anterior Cruciate Ligament

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) stops the shin bone from sliding in front of the thigh bone. It occurs when a player gets hit hard on the side of the knee. It can also occur by overextension, sudden changes in direction, or sudden stops.

Symptoms include swelling within 6 hours of the injury occurring, severe pain that worsens, and a ‘pop’ sound when the ACL was torn.

This may keep players out of action for up to a year. In serious cases, surgery is required followed by rehabilitation.

medial collateral ligament is found on the inner side of the knee

Medial Collateral Ligament

The medial collateral ligament is found on the inner side of the knee. These injuries are often not too severe and can be treated with rest, knee support, and elevation.

These occur from sudden changes in direction, a blow to the side of the knee, or when a player’s studs get caught in the turf.

Mild sprains will recover with three to four weeks of rest. More severe cases may require surgery and a supportive brace. Footballers can take precautions to reduce the risk of such injuries. This includes strength and conditioning work, listening to your body, and resting to minimize most severe knee injuries.

Frequently asked questions

What is the most common knee injury?

The knee joint is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. It is also one of the most important joints. It plays an important role in supporting the body’s weight and facilitating movement, allowing you to bend your knee.

As it is complex and so important in our movement, the knee joint is prone to injury. Common injuries include; tears to the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. The kneecap can also be fractured or dislocated.

The kneecap, or patella, shields your knee joint and protects it from injury or damage when you take a fall. It is for this reason that the kneecap can break during high impact falls or during sports.

Kneecap fractures are common but they are categorized as a less serious injury, usually requiring immobilization, and in very few cases surgery in order to correct the damage.

Related: Should You Be Walking With A Fractured Kneecap?

When the knee bones are pushed out of place a dislocation occurs. This can be caused by major trauma such as a fall, car crash, or high-speed impact. It can also result from twisting of the knee when the foot is planted firmly on the ground, as can occur in high impact sports like football.

All dislocations require relocation, which may be forced by a healthcare professional, or the kneecap may spontaneously return to its proper position.
It can take up to six weeks to fully recover from a disloacted knee.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the knee tissue that joins the upper and lower leg bones together, keeping the knee stable.

The ACL can be torn if the lower leg extends too far forward and the leg becomes twisted. These are some of the most common knee injuries, accounting for around 40% of all sports-related injuries.

This can range from a small tear in the ligament all the way to a much more severe injury, when the ligament tears or becomes separated from the bone itself.
There are several treatment options for ACL injuries which will depend on the extent of the injury. Only extremely severe ACL tears will require surgery, but this will differ with the severity of the tear. Physical rehabilitation is often required, whether surgery is undertaken or not.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries
The posterior cruciate ligament connects the femur bone to the shinbone to keep it from moving back too far. It is located at the back of the knee, as per the name.
This type of injury occurs when trauma impacts the knee. This is most common when a football player lands on a bent knee. If the damage to the posterior cruciate ligament is localized then you can often avoid surgery.
But in the case of a combination of injuries, such as a dislocated knee and other torn ligaments, then surgery may be the only option.

Collateral Ligament Injuries
The collateral ligament is one of the four major ligaments in the knee. Damage to this ligament in particular is a common sports-related injury. When the lower leg is forced sideways this ligament can be easily torn.

If the ligament has been torn then surgery may not be required. However, if other structures in the knee are also significantly injured at the same time then surgery may be the only option.

Meniscal Tears
The meniscus is the piece of cartilage between the knee joint that helps absorb the shock that occurs when running or playing sports. The cartilage helps to cushion the joint and keep it stable.

In sports that require jumping, meniscus tears are all too common. Volleyball and soccer are the most common sports where players experience meniscus tears, as well as contact sports like football.

When you change direction suddenly while running the meniscus can tear. Depending on the extent of the tear this injury may require surgery.

Tendon Tears
The patellar tendon is the tendon in the knee. It works together with the knee muscles in the front of the thigh to straighten the leg.

Middle-aged people are most likely to exhibit a patellar tear, people who participate in running and jumping sports may also tear this tendon.

When the tendon is torn completely this is known as a disabling injury and will require surgery undoubtedly to regain full function of the knee.

Most tears are only partial and rest combined with physical therapy may help to heal a patellar tear.

What is the most common injury in football?

All football injuries occur either during training or a game via high speed combined with full contact. Overuse is also a factor in football injuries and traumatic injuries such as concussions are most common.

The force applied during a tackle, bringing the opponent to the ground or resisting being forced to the ground makes all football players prone to injuries anywhere on their bodies. This can happen even while wearing protective equipment.

Traumatic Injuries
Knee injuries in football are the most common, especially to the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments, and the meniscus. These can leave a player out of the game for extended periods while they recover.
There is also a higher risk of ankle sprains among football players because of the surfaces they play on and the cutting motions of the sport.

Shoulder injuries are the next most common injuries of the game. The labrum, the cartilage bumper that surrounds the socket of the shoulder, is particularly susceptible to injury.

Concussions are also very common in the game. This is a change in mental state due to a traumatic impact. Not ll people who suffer a concussion will be knocked unconscious.

Some symptoms of a concussion include headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of balance, drowsiness, numbness, tingling, difficulty concentrating, and blurry vision.

Clearance should be granted by a healthcare professional before any player returns to football.

Overuse Injuries
Lower back pain and general back pain in common in football players and are often due to overuse. It can lead to overtraining syndrome when a player pushes themselves beyond the point where their body can effectively recover.

Patellar tendinitis, or knee pain, is another overuse injury suffered by football players, usually treated by a quadricep strengthening program.

Heat Injuries
Heat injuries are a major concern for most young players just starting out. It is often occurring during the hottest and most humid months of the year.

The intense activity can result in excessive sweating, depleting the body of salt and water. The early symptoms include cramping of major muscle groups. If not treated, by cooling and fluid replacement, it can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

How do you know if you have a torn meniscus in your knee?

There are some ways in which you can determine if you have torn the meniscus in your knee. The following signs and symptoms are common for a torn meniscus and may require intervention by your doctor;

A popping sensation

Swelling or stiffness

Pain, especially when twisting or rotating your knee

Difficulty straightening your knee fully

Feeling as though your knee is locked in place when you try to move it.

Feeling of your knee giving way
If your knee is painful or swollen, or you can not move your knee in the usual way, then you should seek medical attention. It may need treatment, and in some cases, surgery is the only method that can properly repair it.

Is football bad for your knees?

One thing is certain, football is one of the highest impact sports you can partake in. It is one of the riskiest sports when you are looking at joint injuries as they are common during tackles.

It is likely that if you are tackling, or being tackled, you are at risk of injuring your knee or ankle. These injuries can be significant and have long-term consequences.

Mitch Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.