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Off-the-Job Safety: How to Make it Through the Turkey Bowl in One Piece

Nov. 20, 2013
Playing touch (not tackle), stretching and avoiding booze are some of the ways to ensure that your backyard Turkey Bowl will be an injury-free experience.

For many Americans, playing backyard football with friends and family is a Thanksgiving tradition. Unfortunately for some who partake in the "Turkey Bowl," it's a tradition that involves Advil, lost workdays and even emergency-room visits.

Around this time every year, Dr. Pietro Tonino sees a spike in sprains, contusions, broken bones and other injuries suffered in Thanksgiving pickup football games. However, Tonino points out that many of the injuries easily can be prevented.

Tonino, a sports-medicine surgeon at the Loyola University Medical Center, offers these tips to reduce the risk of Turkey Bowl injuries:

  • Touch, not tackle. Tackle football greatly increases the risk of injury. Flag football reduces the risk. The safest option is touch football.
  • Warm up and stretch. You're more likely to suffer injuries if your muscles are cold. Before kickoff, warm up by jogging, running in place or doing jumping jacks for a few minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Don't wear cleats. When you wear cleats, there's a risk that your foot will be stuck in one position while the rest of your body is moving in a different direction, leading to injury. Leave cleats to professional and competitive players. Wear gym shoes instead.
  • Wear mouth guards. They cost only a few dollars, and can save hundreds of dollars in dental bills if you get smashed in the mouth.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. For example, wear sweats instead of jeans. This will make you more flexible to reduce the injury risk.
  • Act your age. If you're 40, don't try to play like you're still 20. And if you're way out of shape, don't play at all.
  • Don't drink. Avoid alcohol both before and during the Turkey Bowl.
  • Don't play hurt. If you get hurt on a play, stay on the sidelines until symptoms go away completely. Before returning, you should experience no pain or swelling and have normal strength and a full range of motion.
  • Cool down and stretch. At the end of the Turkey Bowl, don't forget to stretch. This will help reduce muscle soreness the next day.

"Playing in a Turkey Bowl is a great way to get some exercise and burn off those pumpkin-pie calories," Tonino said. "But make sure you play smart to stay safe."

Tonino is program director of sports medicine and a professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

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