Inside Insights For Tackling Football Injuries

By Mark A. Caselli, DPM

Emphasizing The Benefits Of Appropriate Footwear

   The effects of shoe design and playing surface play a significant role in performance and in the prevention of injuries in football. The proper selection and correct fit of shoes play significant roles in keeping the athlete on the playing field. Players wear different types of football shoes for different positions and utilize certain cleat combinations for different playing surfaces and different weather conditions such as rain and snow.    The three main styles of cleats are high-tops, mid-cuts and low-cuts. Many linemen wear high-tops that extend above the ankle. The extra support helps them with their lateral movement and keeps their feet steady when they are taking on the weight of a block.    Mid-cuts offer more support than low-cut models but allow more ability to maneuver than high-top cleats. Mid-cuts are the most commonly used cleats and are especially popular with “skill position” players such as defensive backs, running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks. They are the best choice for a youth player looking for a good all-around shoe.    Low-cut cleats sacrifice support for a lighter feel. They are popular with wide receivers and defensive backs, positions that benefit from being able to run fast. Players feel the low-cuts provide extra maneuverability to make quick cuts on the field without the feet being weighted down.    There are two main types of studs or spikes that can go on the soles of the cleats. Most are designed for a specific purpose like playing on grass or turf or a combination of both. Molded cleats are permanently attached to the outsole on the shoe’s bottom. They are usually made of rubber and are generally less expensive than detachable (removable) cleats. Turf shoes usually use molded rubber cleats to give spring and traction on the harder turf surface. Many youth football leagues require players to wear molded cleats, an all-around cleat suitable for most grass fields, and prohibit the use of metal cleats.    Detachable cleats use studs that players can remove and replace, allowing them to change the studs based on field conditions. Detachable studs often require a wrench for removing and adding the studs, which can be made of rubber, hard plastic or metal. On a hard dry field, a player might use a shorter stud. On a wet field, a longer stud would be best.    Detachable cleats require more maintenance and it takes experience to know which type of studs one should wear on different playing surfaces. For this reason, they are usually recommended for older, more experienced players. Replacement studs generally run in 1/2, 3/4, 5/8 and 1 inch sizes. The dilemma players face is that with the better traction provided by the longer studs, there is an increase in the fixation of the foot to the ground surface and consequently, an increase in the risk of injury.    Fixation of the foot through rigid cleating has been shown to be a primary factor in the production of lower extremity injuries, particularly of the knee and ankle. To reduce these injuries, it is recommended to replace the conventional football shoe with synthetic molded soles with a minimum of 15 cleats per shoe, a minimum cleat diameter of 1/2 inch and a maximum cleat length of 3/8 inches.    Finally, the type of playing surface also may be a potential predisposing factor for lower extremity injury. Interestingly, artifical turf was developed in part to help decrease foot fixation. However, a review of the literature shows a number of studies indicating that this type of surface increases the number of lower extremity injuries that lead to time away from the playing field.

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