by Faye Rapoport
Fast-paced, action-packed arena football is wildly popular among its teams’ home crowds, and Matt Anderson has been in the thick of the sport for 13 years. As Head Athletic Trainer of the Arizona Rattlers, Anderson oversees all medical concerns for the players, including treatment and rehabilitation programs.
The Rattlers made their AFL debut in 1992, and became the first team in AFL history to sell out its entire home schedule in July of that year. Two years later the Rattlers stunned the Orlando Predators, 36-31, in ArenaBowl VIII to capture the franchise’s and the state’s first world championship. Their seasons have been marked by exciting games and capacity crowds ever since. In 2003 the Arizona Rattlers made their fourth overall, and second consecutive trip to the ArenaBowl, where they would eventually fall to the Tampa Bay Storm, 43-29 in ArenaBowl XVII.
Anderson actually began his career in 1991 with the Phoenix Suns as the team’s first assistant athletic trainer. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, he spent his first two seasons traveling with the Suns. In 1993, he left to operate the athletic training for Phoenix Arena Sports, encompassing the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Sandsharks, Phoenix Smash, and other sporting events in the America West Arena.
Now, Anderson oversees athletic training for the Rattlers and the WNBA Phoenix Mercury. Born and raised in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, he spends the off-season speaking to schools, organizations and Phoenix Fire paramedics about athletic training.
Anderson recently answered Foot.com’s questions about the risks of foot injuries to arena football players and the training and footcare tips that help them stay healthy.
Foot.com: First, please tell us a little about your job with the Arizona Rattlers.
Anderson: I am the Athletic Trainer, and I am responsible for the health and welfare of the team and staff. I primarily deal with the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of athletic injuries.
Foot.com: What is the difference, in terms of demands on the body, between regular football and arena football?
Anderson: In traditional football the players play one way, either offense or defense. In arena football the players are expected to play both ways, offense and defense. Therefore the amount of time that players are on the field increases, thus the possibility of injury can increase as well. The other difference is that we play within a walled field, so there is no way of ‘running out of bounds’ to avoid contact.
Foot.com: What are some common foot conditions or injuries that you find among arena football players?
Anderson: Turf toe is very common, plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, blisters, neuromas and the occasional fracture of the 5th metatarsal.
Foot.com: What is Turf toe?
Anderson: Turf Toe is the sprain of the big toe’s main joint, technically the metatarsal phalangeal joint of the great toe. This injury occurs mainly when the foot/toe gets caught in the turf, thus the name.
Foot.com: What kind of socks and footwear do the players wear?
Anderson: We try to encourage the players to wear a flat bottom, low traction shoe to lessen the amount of friction coefficient that the players incur with the turf. The other thing is to have a stiff soled shoe to lessen the amount of toe and foot injuries. We have found that when participating on a soft surface, you do not need a soft shoe, which only gives the leg less control and an unstable platform.
Foot.com: Do they wear any additional gear or footcare products to protect their legs and feet?
Anderson: There are times when we will provide a metal insert for the shoe that helps in stiffening the shoe and protecting the foot and toes from the soft turf.
Foot.com: What kind of lower leg or foot strengthening or stretching exercises do you incorporate into the players’ training regimen?
Anderson: Unfortunately, there is not much incorporated into the daily regimen. We do, however, do quite a bit after an injury has been incurred. If there is one thing that we try to encourage, it is to have good Achilles flexibility. This can be achieved with dedicated stretching prior to exercise.
Foot.com: Can you give us an example of how you treat some of the more common injuries that the players deal with?
Anderson: There are not many tricks when it comes to treating foot and toe injuries other than taping techniques to provide stability, ultrasound, cold whirlpool, some electrical stimulation and anti-inflammatory medication. However, the greatest treatment is rest. If you can get the injury to calm down and the inflammation process to decrease, you will have better success.
Foot.com: How important, generally, is good foot health for football players? [
Anderson: Paramount, as this is where they make their money, so to speak. Without a stable pain free base, a football player will never be at the top of their game.
Foot.com: Do you have any general training advice for football players when it comes to their feet or ankles?
Anderson: The proper shoes for each surface participated on is critical. Most shoes are not engineered to play on numerous surfaces. It will never hurt to make sure that you keep your feet in good health by keeping them clean and the nails trimmed properly. Properly fitting shoes can also make a difference. As far as training, it is wise to work on flexibility of the Achilles tendon with stretching. This will come into play with the older athlete where Achilles ruptures can become more frequent. As long as you continue to train on your feet they will strengthen along with the rest of your body, and you should have an excellent outcome.