With the buzz surrounding the U.S. soccer team’s trip to the World Cup in summer 2010, soccer experts predicted the sport would experience a surge in popularity among youth.
More soccer players means more chances for soccer injuries – something parents might not anticipate when they sign their children up for a team.
Nationally, more than 477,500 soccer-related injuries are treated each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
“It’s not as dangerous as some of the high-contact sports, but the thing about soccer is a lot of the injuries that we see are preventable,” says Randall Marx, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon with the San Antonio Orthopaedic Group. “Simple preparation goes a long way. It’s easier to prevent injuries than it is to treat them.”
The most common injuries Marx sees are ankle sprains, contusions on the lower legs, tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Pulled muscles, torn ligaments and broken bones also can occur.
Here’s what the experts suggest to prevent soccer injuries:
Get strong: Twisting injuries and ligament tears can happen when players are moving quickly in one direction and try to stop and change directions by planting their feet, but their muscles aren’t strong enough to withstand that force, says John DeWitt, a staff coach with the youth development system for the Houston Dynamo major-league soccer club. Strengthening muscles can protect against that type of injury.
Get smart: Kids can learn to avoid some dangerous situations. “If I’ve got the ball and I see a defender running at me really fast, getting ready to slide, then probably there’s going to be contact between my foot and their foot,” DeWitt says. “If I recognize that early, I can avoid that by jumping or changing direction.”
Get warm: Have kids warm up thoroughly because cold muscles are more prone to injury.
FIFA’s Medical Assessment and Research Centre developed a soccer warm-up called the 11+ made up of running, strength, balance and plyometric exercises, or exercises using jumping movements, which was shown to reduce injuries by up to half if performed correctly and regularly. Download videos, posters and cards at www.f-marc.com/11plus.
Get the right gear: Make sure kids are wearing properly fitted shin guards to protect the lower legs, Marx says.
Shoes with cleats for good traction are a must to prevent ankle sprains. When playing in the cold, youths should dress in layers so they shed extra clothes as they warm up.
Get the field prepared: Inspect the playing surface in case there are holes in the field, which can cause a sprained ankle, Marx says. Soccer goals should be padded in case of contact and secured and stable so they don’t tip over.
Choose balls made of synthetic, nonabsorbent material, rather than leather, which can absorb water and become heavier, causing injuries.
Get a plan: Know how to administer first aid for minor injuries and have an emergency plan in place in case kids need immediate medical treatment for possible concussions, fractures or dislocations, advises the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Get prepared: “What we always tell our players is there are three important parts of being an athlete,” DeWitt says. “It’s training, nutrition and rest. When you … stop doing one of those three things, performance drops and injury rates increase.”