There’s nothing more frustrating than picking up an injury that keeps you out of action. Injuries rob you of precious time spent playing the game, and for most people that leads to lower fitness levels and less time spent with your mates, which can leave you feeling pretty low after a while.
Of course, injury can strike at any time and there’s often nothing we can do about it, but many injuries sustained playing football are preventable. So we decided to put together a list of things you should make sure you do to give yourself the best chance of remaining injury free and enjoying your football.
How to avoid 5-a-side football injuries
1. Wear the right equipment
There are two key items that any player needs to consider: their footwear and their shin pads. Players suffer injuries each week that could be prevented if only a little thought had gone into making sure that both of these bits of kit are up to the task.
When it comes to footwear, remember, despite the number of spangly multicolored/fluorescent boots you can buy these days, you’re dressing for a game of sports, not the catwalks of Milan. So this means choosing something that is comfortable and practical.
Make sure the boots are well-fitting and not too tight, not too loose (read our 5-a-side football boot guide if you need more help). If you’re trying them on in a shop then make sure you do so wearing football socks and even shin pads (if they have ankle supports which could make a difference) too so that you get the sizing exactly as you’d wear it in a game. If you’re ordering online and they turn up a half-size too big or too small then for goodness’ sake send them back as an ill-fitting boot could be a recipe for an injury.
Lastly, with the shoes, make sure you lace them through every hole to the very top of the boot. That might not be the way you like to wear your casual trainers, but a major cause of twisted ankles is inappropriate footwear that doesn’t provide enough support and stability to the ankle simply because it hasn’t been fully laced up.
Shin pads should be worn in every game, preferably with ankle supports. Lots of people don’t like wearing shin pads and we understand that; they take extra time to put on, they can be uncomfortable and they might not fit in with the look you’re going for – maybe one of a laid back South American playmaker, meandering over the pitch, dictating the tempo, pulling all the strings for a team with his socks rolled down to his ankles.
For a lot of people wearing shin pads to 5-a-side is like wearing a seat belt to drive; it’s an inconvenience, a menace, something you won’t possibly need because of course you’re a better driver than the others on the road (yeah, sure you are).
But if that’s your view you probably need a reality check; chances are you’re not a South American maestro and you’re not going to be able to dance over every dodgy tackle that comes your way.
Sooner or later you’re going to meet with the footballing equivalent of a joyrider, resulting in anything from a pulled Achilles tendon to a fractured bone, which could have been prevented with just 30 seconds of putting your shin pads on before the game.
2. Never rush back from an injury before you’re fully recovered
A familiar sight to us all this one, the player who rushes back from injury only to pull up 5 minutes into the game with a recurrence of the injury he had almost fully recovered from.
Players often make the mistake of cursing their ‘luck’ in not being able to shake off an injury, when actually the truth is that they’ve rushed back to play before their body has fully recovered. Your body needs time to repair the damage suffered through injury so make sure you give it time.
No matter how much your team say they need you, or how much you want to play, make sure that you have given your injury enough time to heal before returning for action or you risk doing yourself further, potentially serious, harm.
Most non-serious injuries (sprains and strains) should be treated using the RICE injury tretment method, as soon as the game has finished to minimise the damage.
3. Use common sense
Pay attention to your body – it’s a sophisticated machine which needs looking after. The sensation of feeling pain is a warning signal from your body to your brain that something is not right.
Whilst it can be beneficial in some instances to override your body’s natural urges, pain is generally a very good warning that your body has been , or is about to be, damaged by the stress that you’re putting it under.
Presence of mind is also needed when your temper risks getting the better of you. Very often players who seek to injure others end up hurting themselves even more.
Paul Gascoigne’s tackle on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final is a case in point – in Gazza’s own words he tried to “get a good challenge on him to let him know he was in a game” and instead ended up rupturing his own cruciate ligament which kept him out for nine months and almost cost him his £5.5m move to Lazio. So think about that next time the red mist comes down…
4. Perform a warm-up (and also a warm down)
A warm up for most 5-a-side players seems to consist of strolling about sharing a few jokes with your mates and blasting a couple of shots high and wide of the goal. Seconds later the whistle goes and you’re required to sprint, twist, turn and run long distances.
Expecting your body to be able to tackle the stresses of intense activity without giving it a proper warm-up is a lot like expecting your car to compete in a rally when you’ve barely scraped the ice fully off the windscreen on a cold morning – it’s not going to end well.
5. Maintain fitness and flexibility through regular activity
You can’t expect to sit on your sofa all week long eating junk-food and expect to wheel yourself out for a game of football without any problems. Regular exercise is necessary to make sure that your body can meet the demands of playing 5-a-side football.
Regular exercise is one thing, but there are certain specific activities that you can do which will strengthen your body against injury and have been proven to reduce injuries by 30-50% in major clinical research studies. These include working on core training; neuromuscular control and balance; and plyometrics and agility. Whilst these activities might sound complicated, they are actually fairly simple and straightforward and we’ve covered them here.