Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Playing Football Bad For You?

Also Known As: Soccer, American football



Short answer

Playing football does pose risks, including concussions, orthopedic injuries, cardiovascular events, and psychological strain. However, there are also benefits like cardiovascular health, team-building, and discipline. Proper training, protective equipment, and awareness can mitigate risks. Weighing the rewards against potential health issues is key for players and parents.



Long answer

Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Football

Football is a sport that's synonymous with hard hits and physical toughness. However, these very elements that make the game thrilling also contribute to the risk of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). When we delve into the health implications of football, it's imperative to understand the short and long-term effects these injuries can have on players.

Concussions in football are often the result of blows to the head that can occur during tackles or collisions with other players or the ground. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, research has indicated that a professional football player may receive up to 1,000 or more hits to the head in a single season, each with the potential to cause a concussion.

These injuries can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Headache and dizziness
  • Confusion and brain fog
  • Memory lapses
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Balance problems
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia

Prolonged exposure to such impacts can contribute to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder commonly found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. Studies, including those cited by NIH, have highlighted the association between CTE and football, showing the potential for lasting neurological and cognitive deficits, and emphasizing the importance of early detection and treatment.

However, it's not just professional players at risk. Research published by Journal of Clinical Neuropsychology suggests that high school football players can also suffer from concussions, with their developing brains being particularly vulnerable to injury.

Recognizing a concussion early and receiving the proper medical attention is crucial. The recommended protocol typically includes:

  • Immediate removal from play to avoid second-impact syndrome
  • Medical evaluation by a professional trained in concussion management
  • Rest and a gradual return to normal activities, guided by an experienced healthcare provider

Preventative measures are also important, and they include wearing properly fitted helmets, adhering to the rules of the game geared towards safety, and implementing training techniques that focus on reducing head impacts.

Education and awareness play a key role as well. Athletes, coaches, and parents should be well-informed about the signs of a concussion and the steps to take if one is suspected. Additionally, as part of ongoing health maintenance, cognitive and physical examinations can help to monitor the well-being of those actively engaged in football.

While the focus on concussions and TBIs in football can sound alarming, it's not a call to abandon the sport entirely. Rather, it's an invitation to approach football with caution and vigilance, ensuring that the physical health and cognitive function of those involved can be preserved for the long game of life.

Orthopedic Injuries and Long-term Joint Health

Football is a sport that demands physical resilience, agility, and strength. It's enjoyed by millions worldwide, from young children in school leagues to professional athletes gracing national fields. However, with the high-impact collisions and rapid directional changes that come with the territory, football players are at an elevated risk for orthopedic injuries. These injuries not only impact a player's immediate ability to participate in the sport but can also have lingering effects on their long-term joint health.

When we look closely at common orthopedic issues in football players, we see a range:

  • Knee Injuries: The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tears are prevalent, often leading to surgeries and extended rehabilitation periods. Studies have suggested that athletes who suffer from an ACL injury may have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee.
  • Ankle Sprains: Ankle sprains are another common injury that can range from mild to severe, depending on the ligament damage. Repeated sprains can lead to chronic ankle instability and potential long-term issues.
  • Shoulder Injuries: From dislocations to rotator cuff tears, the upper body is also at risk due to the physical nature of football. Shoulder injuries can lead to issues like adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) and long-term decreased range of motion.
  • Fractures: High-impact hits can lead to broken bones, which, if not properly treated, can result in improper healing and chronic problems down the line.

It's also essential to consider the less immediate but equally concerning condition of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis involves the wear and tear of cartilage, which does not regenerate easily. The repetitive stress on joints during football can exacerbate this degenerative process, and early onset can be more common in those who have regularly participated in high-impact sports.

How can football players mitigate these risks? Strategies include:

  • Proper Training: Focusing on correct techniques and strength training can help prepare the body’s musculoskeletal system for the demands of the sport.
  • Prevention Programs: Programs that specifically target the prevention of ACL injuries, for example, can significantly reduce the risk of knee-related issues.
  • Protective Gear: Modern advancements in padding and braces can offer additional joint support and reduce the chance of certain injuries.

From a health perspective, weighing the benefits of physical exercise, teamwork, and the joy of playing sports against the risks of orthopedic injuries is essential. While football provides valuable physical activity and can foster a sense of community and discipline, it is crucial for players and their support teams to be proactive about injury prevention and to be well-informed about the potential long-term consequences on joint health.

Finally, it's paramount for athletes to consult with sports medicine professionals who can provide personalized advice and care, given their extensive knowledge in treating and preventing sports-related injuries. By staying aware and taking precautionary measures, players can enjoy the game they love while minimizing their risk of orthopedic injuries and safeguarding their joints for the future.

Cardiovascular Benefits and Risks Associated with Football

Engaging in football can be a double-edged sword when it comes to cardiovascular health. On the bright side, it offers a host of cardiovascular benefits. As a high-intensity sport, football requires both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, which leads to improved heart health and endurance. Studies have consistently shown that regular participation in soccer can lead to a decrease in blood pressure, improved lipid profiles, and enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness. The continuous movement and effort during a game enhance circulation and increase the heart rate, which strengthens the heart muscle over time.

A study published in "Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports" found that playing soccer on a regular basis reduced the risk of falling prey to cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, the interval nature of the sport, with periods of rest following high-intensity activity, effectively trains the heart to recover quickly.

However, it is important to recognize that there are certain risks associated with physical contact sports like football. Accidents and trauma can occur on the field, potentially leading to acute cardiac events. Players with pre-existing heart conditions may be at increased risk during high-intensity activities like tackling and sprinting. The American Heart Association has discussed the phenomenon of "commotio cordis," where a blunt impact to the chest can lead to cardiac arrest. Such instances are rare but are a concern that players and coaches need to be aware of.

Additionally, researchers note that older football players may have a predisposition to atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries. This can predispose them to heart attack or stroke, particularly during intense exertion. It's therefore crucial for football players, especially those with a history of cardiovascular issues, to undergo regular medical screenings and maintain open communication with healthcare providers.

Balancing the cardiovascular benefits and risks involves a comprehensive approach to training, protective gear, and a culture of safety on the field. Ensuring proper hydration, adequate physical conditioning, and adherence to safety regulations can mitigate some of the risks, allowing players to wholly reap the cardiovascular benefits of engaging in football.

  • Improved heart health and endurance through regular training and gameplay
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease with consistent participation
  • Enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness from the dynamic nature of the sport

In conclusion, whilst there is an inherent risk of cardiovascular incidents associated with the physicality of football, the overall benefits for heart health and cardiorespiratory fitness can make it a valuable component of an active lifestyle. Individuals should consult healthcare providers, particularly if they have pre-existing conditions, to tailor their participation in football for optimal cardiovascular benefit while minimizing risks.

The Psychological Impact of Competitive Football

The realm of competitive football can be a double-edged sword when it comes to psychological well-being. On one hand, it offers a plethora of benefits, such as camaraderie, a sense of achievement, and the joy of mastery. On the other, it can also expose players to intense pressure, stress, and the risk of mental health challenges. Let's explore how competitive football can affect the psyche.

Positive Effects on Mental Health

  • Team Spirit and Social Support: Being part of a team fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie. A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that team sports can offer social support that may protect against stress and depression in young adults.
  • Confidence and Self-Esteem: Achieving personal and team goals can enhance a player's self-esteem. Furthermore, mastering skills through practice can bolster a sense of confidence both on and off the field.
  • Stress Relief: Physical activity, including football, is widely recognized for its stress-relieving abilities. Engaging in football allows for the release of endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Negative Psychological Strains

  • Performance Pressure: Competing at any level can induce stress through the desire to perform well. High expectations from coaches, fans, or personal ambition can lead to anxiety and fear of failure.
  • Risk of Burnout: Intense training schedules and the demands of competition can lead to burnout, which the American Psychological Association describes as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.
  • Potential for Mood Disorders: A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that, while exercise can generally be beneficial for mental health, elite athletes may experience psychological distress due to the high demands of competitive sports.

While football provides a constructive outlet for energy and emotion, it is crucial to strike a balance. Coaches and trainers can play a pivotal role in creating a supportive environment that emphasizes personal and athletic growth while being mindful of the potential psychological strains associated with the competitive aspects of the sport. Monitoring athlete well-being and providing resources to address mental health can help mitigate the negative impacts and enhance the overall sports experience. Remember, it’s not just physical prowess that counts, but a healthy and resilient mind that truly makes a player stand out.

Football Safety: Protective Equipment and Training Practices

When examining the health implications of playing football, one cannot ignore the role of protective gear. While the sport is inherently physical and involves a risk of injury, the right equipment can be a game-changer—literally and figuratively. Let's dive into the essentials of protective equipment in football and how training practices contribute to player safety.

Protective Gear Essentials

  • Helmet: Arguably the most critical piece of equipment, a helmet guards against head injuries, including concussions. Modern football helmets are designed to absorb shock, and ongoing research and technology advancements aim to enhance their protective features further.
  • Shoulder Pads: These pads protect the upper body from impact, crucial for a sport that involves frequent tackling. The design and fit are key to ensuring the pads offer maximum protection while allowing mobility.
  • Mouthguard: Oral injuries are common in football, but a mouthguard can prevent them. It's not just about protecting teeth; it also helps reduce the risk of concussions.
  • Padded Clothing: Padded shirts and pants, including girdles with integrated pads, cover key areas like thighs, hips, and tailbones, providing an additional layer of injury prevention.
  • Cleats: Appropriate footwear is essential for both performance and safety, offering traction and helping prevent lower limb injuries.

Up-to-date Equipment

It's not enough to have the right gear; it must also be up to date and in good condition. Regular inspections and replacements are necessary to ensure the equipment provides optimal protection. For example, the reconditioning of helmets is a process that should be adhered to annually, as recommended by manufacturers and regulatory bodies.

Training for Safety

Beyond the gear, training practices significantly impact football safety.

  • Tackling Techniques: Teaching proper tackling techniques can reduce the risk of injuries. For instance, the "Heads Up Football" program by USA Football focuses on educating coaches and players on safety measures, including tackling methods that minimize head contact.
  • Strength and Conditioning: A well-designed strength and conditioning program can fortify the body against injuries. By improving overall athleticism, players are better equipped to handle the physical demands of the game.
  • Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs: Incorporating dynamic warm-ups before and stretch-based cool-downs after practices and games can prepare the body for intensive activity and aid in the recovery process.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Optimal hydration and nutrition are essential for preventing heat-related illnesses and ensuring the body is fueled correctly for peak performance and recovery.

Research and expert opinions suggest a multidisciplinary approach to safety. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that a combination of conditioning exercises, equipment use, and education can lead to a significant reduction in football injuries. Moreover, organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Football League (NFL) continue to invest in safety research and advancements in equipment standards to protect players at all levels.

In summary, while there are risks associated with playing football, the conscious use of protective equipment and adherence to safe training practices can significantly mitigate these concerns. Players, coaches, and organizers must collaborate to prioritize safety in both equipment provision and training execution to preserve the well-being of athletes.

Youth Football: Weighing the Risks and Rewards

When it comes to youth football, parents, coaches, and young athletes often face a difficult question: Are the potential rewards worth the inherent risks? To make an informed decision, it's crucial to examine both the positives and negatives associated with youth football.

Physical Health Rispects

One of the greatest risks of playing youth football is the potential for injury. A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine showed that the injury rate in youth football is approximately 5 per 1,000 athlete exposures. The most common injuries include sprains, strains, fractures, and, most notably, concussions. Concussions can be particularly concerning due to their long-term implications for cognitive function, as highlighted by research in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

In contrast, football can offer significant physical benefits. It promotes cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and coordination. The sport can also help children develop physical skills and a habitual exercise routine early in life, contributing to lifelong fitness and obesity prevention as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Social and Emotional Rewards

Beyond physical health, football can positively impact social and emotional well-being. Team sports, according to the American Psychological Association, foster communication skills, teamwork, and discipline. Additionally, achieving goals on the field can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment.

However, the competitive nature of football might induce stress and anxiety in young players. The pressure to perform and win can sometimes lead to negative psychological effects, particularly if there is an excessive focus on achievement over enjoyment.

Cognitive and Academic Consequences

There is also an academic dimension to consider. Participation in sports has been linked with higher academic achievement, as per a report from the Institute of Medicine. This could result from the development of time-management skills and a disciplined routine.

Conversely, injuries such as concussions could potentially interfere with academic performance and cognitive development. The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the importance of cognitive rest after concussion, which can lead to reduced academic workload and potentially affect academic progress.

Long-Term Considerations

The long-term effects of youth football are receiving increased attention, particularly concerning repetitive head impacts and the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A study by Boston University suggests a link between early exposure to tackle football and cognitive and behavioral issues later in life.

On the other hand, the discipline and teamwork learned through youth football might lead to positive long-term behavior and career benefits. Skills such as leadership, resilience, and strategic thinking, often honed on the football field, can translate into various aspects of life.

In conclusion, evaluating the risks and rewards of youth football involves a careful consideration of the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive implications. Parents and young athletes should consider these factors holistically, seek advice from medical professionals, and make a decision that aligns with the child's best interests and well-being.

Heat-Related Illnesses and Dehydration on the Field

Football players, irrespective of their level of play, are often exposed to high temperatures and humid conditions, especially during summer training camps or in regions with warmer climates. This exposure can lead to various heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat syncope. Understanding the risks and preventive measures is crucial for players and coaches alike to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes on the field.

Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a medical emergency. It occurs when the body's temperature control system fails, and body temperature rises to critical levels. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, and absence of sweating. Football players are at a higher risk due to the physical exertion and equipment such as helmets and pads that inhibit heat dissipation. According to a 2018 study in the "Journal of Athletic Training," exertional heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in athletes, and early recognition and rapid cooling are vital to survival.

Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is another common heat-related illness characterized by the body’s inability to cope with heat. Symptoms often include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headache. If not addressed, it may progress to heat stroke. Staying hydrated and taking frequent breaks can help prevent this condition.

Heat Cramps: Muscle spasms or cramps, especially in the legs, arms, or abdomen, are common in hot and humid conditions, often due to the loss of fluids and electrolytes from sweating. Replenishing fluids and electrolytes and practicing proper conditioning can help manage and prevent heat cramps.

Heat Syncope: Heat-related fainting or dizziness can occur when standing for long periods in the heat, often during the early season adaptation period. Hydration and acclimatization strategies are important to minimize this risk.

Dehydration is an underpinning factor that exacerbates all forms of heat illness. A dehydrated body struggles to regulate temperature efficiently, which can impair athletic performance and increase the risk of heat-related ailments. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes drink about 17 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise and regularly during activity to prevent dehydration.

Prevention of heat-related illnesses should be a priority for all football programs. The following strategies are imperative for keeping athletes safe:

  • Acclimatization to heat by gradually increasing the duration and intensity of workouts
  • Adequate hydration before, during, and after practice or games
  • Wearing breathable, moisture-wicking clothing
  • Implementing frequent rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned environments
  • Monitoring the heat index to adjust practice intensity and duration accordingly
  • Education of coaches, athletes, and medical personnel on the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses
  • Immediate action and treatment at the first signs of heat illness

It should be noted that individual susceptibility to heat-related illnesses can vary. Factors such as a player's fitness level, acclimatization status, and any underlying health conditions can play a significant role in their risk. Therefore, personalizing strategies for hydration and heat illness prevention is also key.

In conclusion, while playing football can indeed put athletes at risk of heat-related illnesses and dehydration, knowledge, preparedness, and proactive measures can greatly mitigate these risks and protect the health of the players. Vigilance and education are essential elements in fostering a safe playing environment.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, many football programs have implemented heart health screening protocols, which may include physical exams, family history assessments, and in some cases, more advanced tests like EKGs or echocardiograms. These screenings are intended to identify players who may be at higher risk for cardiovascular events and manage that risk accordingly.

No, football helmets are designed to reduce the risk of head injuries, but they cannot completely prevent concussions. The brain can still move within the skull upon impact, leading to a concussion. Therefore, proper tackling techniques and rule changes aimed at reducing head impacts are also important in minimizing concussion risk.

Padded clothing can help to absorb impact and reduce the severity of contusions and other soft-tissue injuries. Mouthguards not only protect teeth and reduce the risk of oral injuries, but they can also help decrease the risk of concussions by absorbing shock and stabilizing the head and neck during impact. While they provide significant protection, they must be properly fitted and used consistently to be effective.

Prevention programs targeting ACL injuries, which generally include neuromuscular training, proper movement techniques, and strength exercises, have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of ACL injuries. However, while these programs are effective, ACL injuries cannot be completely eradicated due to the unpredictable nature of the sport.

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Possible short-term side effects

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • memory lapses
  • difficulty concentrating
  • balance problems
  • mood swings
  • insomnia
  • dehydration
  • muscle cramps
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • head injury
  • orthopedic injuries
  • increased heart rate
  • anxiety
  • burnout
  • risk of heat-related illnesses

Possible long-term side effects

  • chronic traumatic encephalopathy (cte)
  • neurological deficits
  • osteoarthritis
  • reduced mobility
  • emotional and mental exhaustion
  • atherosclerosis
  • cognitive and behavioral issues
  • chronic joint pain
  • increased cardiovascular disease risk


  • cardiovascular fitness
  • improved lipid profiles
  • enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness
  • strength development
  • coordination
  • reduced cardiovascular disease risk
  • teamwork and discipline
  • stress relief

Healthier alternatives

  • properly fitted helmets
  • safety-focused training techniques
  • protective gear
  • gradual heat acclimatization
  • hydration strategies
  • cognitive and physical rest post-concussion
  • non-contact football variants
  • regular medical screenings

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-20-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-20-2024

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