Attending a soccer game brings excitement and anticipation to fans who shout "Goal!" when a soccer player scores. But when "Oh, no!" resounds in the crowd because an athlete on the field is injured by a fall, blow, or collision with other players, the teams and audience worry about the severity of the injury and the soccer player's recovery.
Soccer injuries are generally either acute or cumulative. Acute injuries are traumatic while cumulative injuries result from repetitive stress on a muscle, joint, or connective tissue trigger that can progressively worsen aches, pain, and physical impairment.
Christopher Gee, MD, MPH, specializes in primary care sports medicine and emergency medicine at University of Utah Health. He often treats young athletes for soccer injuries and rates the following as the five most common acute soccer injuries he sees.
- Muscle strains
- Ankle sprains
- Foot fractures
- Knee injuries
- Knee sprain
- ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) sprain or tear
- Meniscus tear or contusion
- Upper extremity injuries
- Clavicle fracture
In addition to acute soccer injuries, players may also experience chronic conditions such as Achilles tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, shin splints, stress fractures, and tendonitis.
Preventing Soccer Injuries
Before joining a soccer team, an athlete should get a sports physical conducted by a health care provider to evaluate their health, measure the maturity of their body and physical fitness, and record current injuries or conditions that could lead to injury. Most states require a sports physical before children and teens can play.
Because many injuries on the soccer field result from overuse, overtraining, poor conditioning, or the lack of a proper warm-up, players who comply with the following recommendations can reduce the chance of a soccer injury:
- Warm up for at least 30 minutes before the game starts, beginning with a few laps and stretching the lower body and hips, groins, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, quadriceps, and neck.
- Wear protective gear, including mouth and shin guards, and for goalies, protective gloves. "Some players wear Q-Collars to reduce movement of the brain within the cranial space, which may aid in the protection of the brain from the effects of head impacts," Gee says. Make sure all equipment is properly sized and maintained.
- Check the playing field for obstacles such as holes, puddles, broken glass, rocks, or trash that could cause an injury.
- Avoid playing during inclement weather or immediately after a rainstorm when the field could be slick and muddy.
- Give yourself time to heal after an injury, even a relatively minor one. Rushing back may increase the risk of re-injury.
- Practice healthy habits by getting sufficient rest, staying hydrated, and eating nutritious food to prevent fatigue and proneness to injury.
Recovering from Soccer Injuries
Soccer players can be injured during a collision with another player and in non-contact moves such as changing direction, tripping, or running.
For athletes with a sports-related injury, orthopedic and physical therapists can help to speed recovery and restore function. "Even if injured players can't participate actively in subsequent games, they should support their team by attending matches, cheering for their team, and participating in practices and drills as much as possible," says Gee, who is also the chief medical officer for Real Salt Lake Soccer sports medicine services.
Athletes should acknowledge and accept injuries as soon as possible to start the healing process. Gee notes many injuries can be treated successfully with NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and the RICE protocol as follows:
Soccer players are happy to hear "Goal!" while actively playing in a game but are caught off-guard if they are injured and are forced to suspend their playing time while they recover. By paying close attention to their body through conditioning and training and acknowledging any signs of injury, they can get back in the game faster when their health care provider and coach give them the go-ahead.