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Overtraining in the NFL: Football’s Next Big Crisis

Blog written by Kylie Marler

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NFL players are some of the most talented athletes in the world. Statistics prove they’re also more likely to get overtrained. Yes, overtraining is a very real and prevalent problem within the NFL, but we’ve yet to see how it actually affects the players.


What is Overtraining?

According to an article by HSS (an academic medical center ranked #1 in orthopedics for 12 years in a row), overtraining happens, “when an athlete doesn’t adequately recover after repetitive intense training, and can include fatigue, declining performance and potential injury.” Continuing on, the article says, “full recovery from overtraining is difficult and can require weeks or months of time off from working out”. NationalSportsMed.com has an article on overtraining saying that overtraining, “takes months to recover from and can ultimately end an athlete’s career if left untreated.”

NationalSportsMed.com’s article also says, “Overtraining can result in a decrease in performance, chronic muscle and joint pain, loss of enthusiasm for their sport and personality changes in athletes that can last for several months. Overtraining, when left unchecked, can ultimately ruin an athletic career.”


The Most Common Overtraining Injuries

Great Midwest Foot and Ankle, a podiatry practice dedicated to orthopedic conditions of the foot and ankle, has a page on their website that outlines overtraining injuries that are most common in football:

    • Plantar Fasciitis
    • Achilles Tendonitis
    • Sesamoiditis
    • Stress Fractures
    • Posterior Tibial Tendon Injuries


Plantar Fasciitis

Mayo Clinic (the #1 hospital in the U.S.) has a page on their website that explains plantar fasciitis. According to the page, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain and “involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of each foot and connects the heel bone to the toes.”

The page also says, “tension and stress on the fascia can cause small tears. Repeated stretching and tearing of the facia can irritate or inflame it”. In addition, Mayo Clinic writes, “ignoring plantar fasciitis can result in chronic heel pain that hinders your regular activities. You’re likely to change your walk to try to avoid plantar fasciitis pain, which might lead to foot, knee, hip or back problems.”


Achilles Tendonitis

Penn Medicine, the oldest hospital in the U.S., published an article on their website that talks about Achilles tendonitis. The article says, “Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon that connects the back of your leg to your heel becomes swollen and painful near the bottom of the foot.”

The article continues, saying that tendonitis is caused by overuse, and common symptoms include: pain when walking or running; stiffness and swelling; pain in the Achilles tendon when touched or moved; and difficulty standing.

Lastly, Penn Medicine’s article outlines what to do for diagnosis and treatment, adding that, “it is important to remember that it may take at least two to three months for the pain of Achilles tendonitis to go away. If your pain does not improve, you may need surgery to remove inflamed tissue and abnormal areas of the tendon.”


Sesamoiditis

Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center, published a page on their website that explains sesamoiditis. The page says, “sesamoiditis is an inflammation of the sesamoid bones in the ball of the foot and the tendons they are embedded in. It’s usually caused by overuse, especially by dancers, runners and athletes who frequently bear weight on the balls of their feet.”

Further down the page, Cleveland Clinic gives suggestions for diagnosing and treating sesamoiditis, adding that sesamoiditis, “can also do permanent damage if it’s not allowed to fully heal, or if you wait too long to seek treatment.”


Stress Fractures

Mayo Clinic’s website also has a page about stress fractures. It starts off by giving an overview, “stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. They’re caused by repetitive force, often from overuse — such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances.”

Continuing down the page, Mayo Clinic writes that pain might be barely noticeable at first but will worsen over time. In addition, Mayo Clinic says, “stress fractures often result from increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly,” as well as, “some stress fractures don’t heal properly, which can cause chronic problems.”


Posterior Tibial Tendon Injuries

Tufts Medical Center Community Care, a network of many physicians and specialties located in the Boston area (formerly known as Hallmark Health Medical Associates), has an article on their website that addresses Posterior Tibial Tendon Injuries. The article begins by explaining what this injury is, “a posterior tibial tendon injury is a problem with the tendons and muscles that extend from the back of your lower leg to your inner ankle and foot.” The article lists the common causes of posterior tibial tendon injuries: “overuse of the tendon, such as from lots of running, intense exercise, or sports training,” and, “a sudden activity that twists or tears your tendon, such as jumping, starting to sprint, or a fall.”

As far as diagnosis and treatment goes, the article suggests consulting a healthcare professional, adding that, “if you have a severe injury, your healthcare provider may put your leg in a cast or boot for several weeks to keep it from moving while it heals. You may need to use crutches until you can walk without pain.” And lastly, the article says, “the pain often gets better within a few weeks with self-care, but some injuries may take several months or longer to heal.”


NFL Hall of Famer: Troy Aikman

This article on sportscasting.com talks all about former Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman’s biggest regret: overtraining. He starts his story off by describing his diet during his first six seasons, “I was a bachelor and I didn’t eat the best. I had pizza a couple of nights a week. I had Chinese food one night a week. I had another place for spaghetti and meatballs.” After losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the 1994 NFC Championship, Aikman took a step back and reassessed his eating choices.

This is where the Hall of Famer says the overtraining began. He describes how he first cut out the fast food he had been craving (which helped him lose weight), then added jogging to his workouts. Aikman went “all in” on his new running regime, adding it on top of the intense workouts and practices he was already getting from the Cowboys. The footballer continued to push himself, keeping up with his running during both the offseason and regular season. It seemed to be working, as the Cowboys took the title of Super Bowl Champions.

But looking back, Aikman says, “just didn’t have any legs by the end of my career. At the time, I’m thinking, all this extra work that I’m putting in is really good for me. In hindsight, it was probably detrimental. I just got obsessed with it. That’s the thing I would eliminate that if I had to do it over again.” With legs and a back that were pretty much shot, the former quarterback retired after just twelve seasons in the NFL. Aikman continues to suffer from pushing himself too hard, both physically and mentally, and one can’t help but wonder:  how many NFL seasons could this legend have played if he hadn’t overtrained? 


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References


Football Injuries Overtraining | Great Midwest Foot and Ankle Centers. (2019, May 10). Great Midwest Foot and Ankle Centers. https://www.greatmidwestfootandankle.com/football-injuries-overtraining/


Sesamoiditis: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21671-sesamoiditis


Posterior Tibial Tendon Injury – Tufts Medical Center Community Care. (n.d.). Tufts Medical Center Community Care. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://hhma.org/healthadvisor/aha-posttibi-sma/#:~:text=What%20is%20a%20posterior%20tibial,that%20attach%20muscle%20to%20bone.


Plantar fasciitis – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022, January 20). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plantar-fasciitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354846


Overtraining: What It Is, Symptoms, and Recovery | HSS. (n.d.). Hospital for Special Surgery. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.hss.edu/article_overtraining.asp


Musculoskeletal Injury History Is Associated With Lower Physical and Mental Health in a Historical Cohort of Former National Football League Players – PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33494044/


Stress fractures – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2021, May 20). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stress-fractures/symptoms-causes/syc-20354057


Thomas, R. (2021, February 28). Troy Aikman’s Biggest Regret Is How He Overtrained During His Cowboys Career: “I Just Got Obsessed.” Sportscasting | Pure Sports. https://www.sportscasting.com/troy-aikmans-biggest-regret-is-how-he-overtrained-throughout-his-cowboys-career-i-just-got-obsessed/


What is Overtraining? – The National Sports Medicine Institute. (2021, February 23). The National Sports Medicine Institute. https://www.nationalsportsmed.com/what-is-overtraining/

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