When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, it was the first real indication that Americans were ready to embrace soccer. Flash-forward more than 20 years, and soccer is no longer a foreign sport; it is the fastest-growing team sport in the US. Bay Area high school leagues and indoor league seasons are just getting underway now. Although soccer is a great form of exercise that promotes body coordination and balance, it takes a toll on the body, and just like any other physically demanding sport, can result in injuries especially when played consistently. The good news is that a significant number of soccer-related injuries are preventable if appropriate safety measures are implemented.
What are some common soccer injuries?
The most common injuries affect the lower extremities from overtaxing of leg muscles, bones, and ligaments and from collisions. Such injuries can be traumatic and in the worst cases may require surgery. These include contusions, fractures, pulled muscles, strains, and ligament tears.
One of the most common and significant sports injuries suffered by soccer players is to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). ACL injuries are tears in knee ligaments that join the lower leg to the upper leg. The ACL helps to keep the knee stable, which is necessary for a soccer player. When ACL injuries occur, a soccer player feels pain and instability at the knee instantly. Some even hear an audible pop when the ACL ruptures.
Soccer also causes injuries to the upper extremities, mostly resulting from player-on-player contact and falls. Such injuries include shoulder dislocations, wrist sprains and wrist fractures. Additionally, neck, face and head injuries are also commonplace in soccer. They include fractures, bruises, cuts, neck sprains and concussions.
Effective techniques to prevent soccer injuries
To ensure longevity of soccer careers and to protect players from long-term health issues resulting from repeated injuries, prevention is far better than waiting to treat soccer-related injuries. Here are some effective prevention methods.
- Every soccer team should have preseason physical examinations conducted by a knowledgeable and experienced sports doctor. It is in the best interest of every player to strictly adhere to the sports doctor’s recommendations.
- Proper field maintenance is indispensable when trying to reduce injury rates.
- Every player should use well-fitting shin guards and cleats.
- It is advisable to use only synthetic balls. Contrary to common misconception, leather balls are not better since they become waterlogged which makes them heavy and more detrimental especially when heading.
- Proper physical conditioning is essential. Muscles and ligaments may be harmed by intense work when they are not conditioned by regular exercise.
- Poor muscle flexibility results in more pain, tenderness and soreness. Such injuries can be simply reduced through proper stretching, cool-downs and warm-ups. Maintaining proper body fitness through aerobic training, agility training and strength training is indispensable especially if you have been inactive for a while.
- To avoid being sidelined by an ACL injury, engage in strengthening, stretching, agility, balance and plyometrics exercises. (7 Exercises to Prevent ACL Injuries by SafeKids)
- Listen to your body and take some time off if playing hurts. Seek medical advice any time pain or discomfort continues. Overextending yourself will strain your body and make you more susceptible to serious injuries that can shorten a playing season or even a soccer career.
Soccer injuries are minimized when players and team officials take responsibility to implement preventive safety measures.
It is always advisable to have experienced medical trainers specialized in sports medicine on call.
Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht, M.D. is a renowned orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He and his knowledgeable and experienced staff will help keep your players in excellent physical condition to ensure they perform optimally and play for a longer time.