Tackling Common Soccer Injuries
February 24, 2017 11:45 pm / Category: Soccer
With the ever-growing popularity of soccer comes an increase in soccer-related injuries in players of all levels. PT Lyndsay explains who’s at risk for the most common injuries and why, and (more importantly) how to avoid sidelining and/or chronic injuries.
BY LYNDSAY DEFILIPPO, DPT, RAUSCH PHYSICAL THERAPY
While football, basketball, and baseball may be the most popular sports in the U.S., soccer reigns supreme in most other countries. Millions of people around the world love to watch and play soccer, with an estimated 200,000 professional athletes and 240 million players at lower-level amateur status.
With more people participating in this physically-demanding sport, coupled with a dangerous societal obsession with year-round competition (meaning little-to-no breaks for players,) we are seeing more and more soccer-related injuries. While head and neck injuries are not unheard of, the vast majority of soccer injuries occur within the lower extremity; of those injuries, the foot/ankle complex is the most affected, followed by the knees, thighs, and hips.
With this heightened rate of injury comes an increase in the time players are spending on the sidelines, unable to play the sport they love. Research shows that on average, soccer players will sit out seven to 30 days when they suffer mild to moderate injuries. However, when you compare that to the average time it takes for soft-tissue and bones to properly heal, you can clearly see that the timelines don’t match up.
Athletes are returning to sport too soon and playing on tissues that are still injured, placing them at increased risk for re-injury, as well as heightened risk for new injuries. You may ask, “Well why are the professionals back on the pitch faster than me?” Keep in mind, it is their job to play soccer, they are in PT and rehab sometimes 8 hours a day, and the team is losing money each minute they are on the bench. Many times a professional athlete will also return sooner than they should, again increasing their risk for further injuries or sustaining new injuries from compensations within the body.
Who’s At Risk, and Why?
While research is still on the fence as to what definitively causes the most injuries in soccer players, here are some of the more notable findings I’ve come across:
- Most soccer injuries occur in competition versus practice scenarios, when physical demands, contact, intensity, etc. are all heightened.
- A study by Hawkins and Fuller reported 59% of injuries were caused by non-body contact, while 41% are caused by body contact.
- Other studies show that tackling is the biggest cause of injury.
- Other factors to consider are body mechanics and alignment, gender, and time spent playing the sport, as well as outside variables, such as pitch surface, athlete footwear, etc.
Basically, there are plenty of sport specific factors that put players at risk of sustaining lower extremity injuries; again, the most common area for concern in soccer players. In fact, one study has shown ankle sprains account for 80% of injuries in soccer, compared to 40% across all other sports. Even if you’re lucky enough to have never “rolled your ankle” while playing soccer, you may be one of those players who has sustained other common lower-body injuries, such as a contusions, strains, sprains, muscle tears—and in more severe cases—ACL tears, meniscal pathologies, and MCL sprains.
Seven Ways to Combat Common Soccer Injuries
So, if soccer players at all levels are constantly at high risk for sidelining injuries due to the nature of their sport, what can they do to prevent them?
First and foremost, athletes (as well as parents and coaches) need to put their body’s needs first, and if/when injury occurs, they need to respect the amount of time it needs for proper healing and recovery. This shift in mindset alone will help players avoid not only re-injury, but also future injuries and chronic pain down the road.
Simply put, playing through the pain is no longer an acceptable excuse (unless you don’t care about chronic injury, early arthritis and a host of other health issues later in life.) While athletes in demanding sports will always be at risk for injury, here are a few steps you can take to get started on your path to preventing overuse injuries and chronic pain:
- Always, always warm up. Do a proper, structured dynamic warm up program, such as the FIFA 11+ Program, before every practice and game. A dynamic warm up includes exercises that mimic the movements you’ll actually be doing while playing soccer, which properly preps your body to perform.
- Focus on exercises that target and build stability in the most vulnerable areas of soccer players, i.e. the ankles, foot, knees, and hips. Some good exercises for this are single leg balance drills, lateral walks with resistance bands, heel raises, and hip series exercises targeting lateral hip stabilizers.
- Build a good support system. Find a good coach, physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, and/or other sport professionals to assist you with injury prevention techniques. These people should share your focus on listening to your body, and should never push you to return to sport before your body is properly healed.
- Make sure to stretch and foam roll after every practice, training session, or game. Click to download the Rausch Physical Therapy & Sports Performance Foam Roll Routine poster.
- Emphasize proper form. Always focus on form when performing sport-specific movements (eg. long kicks, corners, short kicks, penalties, passing, etc.) They may feel second-nature after many years playing, but when you get sloppy you risk re-injury.
- Do NOT depend on braces, taping, etc. long term to “fix” an injury. While these bracing methods are good for prevention and short-term protection, ultimately you are treating the symptoms of the problem, not the cause. Visit a physical therapist who can use manual therapy to actually rehab traumatic and chronic injuries, as well as create an exercise program to strengthen your weak areas to keep you off their table and on the field.
- Listen to your body! Pain is not the only indicator for injury. Instability, weakness, poor-tissue mobility, etc. can all indicate that an athlete is NOT ready to return to the pitch.
Lyndsay DeFilippo PT, DPT, CKTP received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from New York University in 2010. She’s a Graston Practitioner and a Certified Kinesiotaping Practitioner. Lyndsay looks at each injury as a constantly changing puzzle, which is only solved when her patient returns to what s/he loves doing. She enjoys helping with the full recovery process, which includes providing the education, tools and fundamentals to prevent re-injury and the potential for new injuries.