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Sport Specific Injuries: Soccer

Officially it’s about 150 years old, though its roots are much more long-standing. It’s the most popular sport in the world, and fans can participate through youth and amateur leagues, at the professional level, and even in video games. The passion surrounding this sport has been known to cause riots and even wars. I’m of course talking about association football – or as it’s more commonly called here in America, soccer.

Soccer is a rough, high-contact sport, but unlike football and hockey, its players don’t wear a lot of padding to protect them from injury. The game’s quick, intense pace demands a lot of participants, and injuries are common. These injuries can happen without warning. They may be minor (blisters) or not so minor (concussions, ACL tears), but all are worth learning to avoid.

Because soccer is a foot and leg-centric game, soccer players are usually free from the severe shoulder and elbow problems that plague athletes in football, baseball, volleyball, etc (the exception to this might be a goalie who repeatedly dives and lands on his/her shoulder). However, an increased risk for lower body injury means that soccer players must be ever-vigilant to keep their legs, knees, ankles, and feet healthy.

UPPER LEGS – Soccer players are notorious for their pulled hamstring and groin muscles. Hip flexor tendonitis is a risk for anyone who runs frequently, and bruises are an almost guaranteed consequence of contact sports.

KNEES – Besides the overuse perils of “runner’s knee” (called patellofemoral syndrome), soccer players are particularly vulnerable to strains and tears of tendons and ligaments in the knee due to the sport’s rough nature. A tackle gone wrong, an unexpected change of direction, or an awkward kick all represent danger to the soccer athlete’s knee.

LOWER LEGS – Assuming they are properly protected with shin guards, the primary concerns for lower leg soccer injuries are both due to overuse. “Shin splints” is a blanket term for pain in the front of the lower leg and sometimes is an indicator of stress fracture. Achilles tendonitis describes inflammation of the Achilles tendon; left untreated, Achilles tendonitis may worsen and lead to Achilles tendon rupture.

ANKLES – Ankle sprains are extremely common in soccer.

FEET – Blisters can be caused by ill-fitting socks and/or shoes. Plantar fasciitis is the name for inflammation in the tendon that runs along the bottom of the foot. This is another type of overuse injury, though some individuals are more genetically prone to the condition.

OTHER – Soccer athletes may also experience concussions, hernias, muscle cramps, dehydration, and sunburns.

It seems like quite a list, but there is much you can do to avoid the above injuries when playing soccer.

Stay conditioned for your sport. Training for soccer is not like training for other sports. You must recognize your unique needs and exercise those areas. This includes plyometrics and balance exercises (to improve strength and stability in knees and ankles), strength training that focuses on balanced core/lower body conditioning, as well as flexibility training.
Wear protective gear. Beyond just shin guards, mouth guards, goggles, and even helmets can prevent a multitude of soccer injuries. Athletic tape and soft braces add support to vulnerable knees and ankles, while physio tape can aid shin splints.
Get adequate rest. Your body needs time to recover after hard exertions. Denying it rest only increases your chance of injury.
Treat minor injuries immediately. In general, the longer you’ve had the injury, the longer it will take to recover from it. Nip small pains in the bud by treating them with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) before they escalate, and see your physical therapist for injuries that do not show improvement with home treatment within seven days.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world for a reason – it’s exciting, fun, and available to just about everyone. Because of this, it’s worth it to learn how to stay injury-free so you can keep playing. Have a great season, and keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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