Buckle Your Chinstrap!

It’s the time of year when we get together with family and friends, eat too much, and play touch football in the backyard. Some of the risks of the game--but likely not all of them--can be reduced by thoroughly warming up and stretching beforehand.

Here’s what to do if you or a family member suffers one of these common injuries during this year’s Turkey Bowl.

Ankle sprains

These occur when the ligaments that hold your ankle together are stretched or torn, usually when you misstep or you twist your ankle. Most respond well to typical first aid, including Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE), followed by rehab to restore strength and motion. Simple sprains may resolve in less than a week; more serious ones may take months to heal. Sprains can be mistaken for a fracture, so a visit to the doctor might be necessary.

Knee sprains

These happen when the internal or external ligaments that support your knee are stretched or torn, often when it’s twisted because of a vicious hit. Common injuries are to the medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). MCL and LCL injuries typically resolve with standard first aid and rehabilitation. Injuries to the ACL typically require surgical reconstruction of the ligament. If you sprain your knee, you are probably going to end up in the doctor’s office.

Muscle strains

These occur when the muscles and/or tendons are stretched or torn, most common to the hamstring. This is especially true for those individuals who are older or who haven’t exercised in a while. These can be mild, moderate or severe but respond well to RICE, followed by stretching and strengthening exercises.

Clavicle (collarbone) fractures

The clavicle connects the shoulder to the chest wall. Fractures typically occur from a Fall On an Outstretched Hand (FOOSH). Fractures that remain in normal alignment are usually allowed to heal with or without shoulder bracing; those that are aligned poorly typically require surgery.

Dislocated shoulders

These occur when the upper arm is forced out of its socket  in the shoulder blade, such as when someone grabs your arm just as you are about to throw a pass. A trip to the ER is usually required to put the shoulder back in place. Then rehabilitation is needed to return the shoulder to normal function. Sprain, strains, fractures, and dislocations of the wrist and hand are all common in the Turkey Bowl. Most are a result of FOOSH. Some can be treated with RICE, while others will need a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment.

Nasal fractures

An elbow to the nose can easily fracture the cartilage connection to the nasal bone. If bleeding is profuse and the nose misaligned, a visit to the doctor is necessary. If the nose has not moved and the bleeding and swelling are minimal, typical first aid is often needed.

Tooth fractures, movements, and avulsions (knocked out tooth)

Go to the dentist ASAP. Treatment can range from tooth bonding, splinting, reduction with a root canal or tooth replacement. Mouthpieces are almost 100 percent effective in preventing dental injury.


Concussions are caused by rapid acceleration, deceleration, or rotation of the brain within the skull. This movement causes injury to the brain with clinical symptoms but no structural damage. Often this is manifested by changes in cognition, memory, balance and coordination. A trip to the ER is required to rule out other, more serious brain injuries. Return to normal brain function typically occurs within a week with cognitive rest and decreased physical activity.

Bret Wood is a lecturer and clinical education coordinator in UNC Charlotte’s College of Health and Human Services and works with the Department of Kinesiology.  

*Disclaimer: Information in this article does not constitute medical advice. If injured, you should seek the care of a qualified health care professional.